JOHANNESBURG – Old Mutual, South Africa’s oldest insurer, scored a major psychological victory on Friday, when Judge Brian Mashile decided to recuse himself from hearing the contempt-of-court application lodged by former chief executive Peter Moyo. Mashile recused himself following a hearing held at the Mpumalanga High Court amid the six-month-long bruising court battle that has seen the insurance group lose close to R17billion in market capitalisation.
Mashile has ruled twice against Old Mutual. In July, he granted an interim order for Moyo’s reinstatement, and in August he dismissed Old Mutual’s application for a declaratory order seeking to prevent Moyo from returning to work.
Moyo, who was axed in June, filed a contempt-of-court application against the Old Mutual board, which is chaired by Trevor Manuel, after it refused to reinstate him and for the company’s decision to issue a second notice of termination in August. Moyo in October filed a replying affidavit introducing a new ground of contempt, claiming that the insurer and its directors had embarked on a campaign of insulting Mashile personally.
The affidavit was filed after Manuel called Mashile a “single individual who happens to wear a robe” during a press conference in September, although he later retracted the statement.
In response, Old Mutual applied for Mashile’s recusal as the presiding judge in the contempt-of-court hearing, which is yet to be heard.
Old Mutual said on Friday that Moyo’s legal team had introduced allegations that Old Mutual was scandalising the court, putting Mashile in an untenable position.
The insurer insisted that the application for recusal had been a challenging decision.
“Despite asking them to remove this reference from their contempt papers, we had no choice but to apply for the judge’s recusal when they refused to do so. The decision to proceed with the recusal application was a difficult one and we welcome and respect Judge Mashile’s decision to recuse himself,” said Old Mutual in a statement.
However, Eric Mabuza, Moyo’s legal representative, described Old Mutual’s recusal application as a delaying tactic, and that following Mashile’s recusal, the case would simply be heard by a different judge.
“This is not a victory but an own goal for Old Mutual. They were using the recusal application as a strategy to delay arguing the merits of the case. However, nothing has changed. The facts are there,” said Mabuza.
Mabuza maintained that Old Mutual was in contempt of court for refusing to reinstate his client.
“Even a five-year-old knows that if you do not implement a court order is to be in contempt of court. To call a judge a man who happens to be wearing a robe is contempt of court,” said Mabuza.
The insurer axed Moyo in June citing a breakdown in trust and confidence with the board. In May, Moyo was suspended after he allegedly pocketed R30million in dividend payments linked to NMT Capital, the investment company he co-founded allegedly at the expense Old Mutual.
On Thursday, judgment was reserved for 2020 in the case in which Moyo is challenging his dismissal.
The case was heard by three judges at the Johannesburg High Court: Elias Matojane, Pieter Meyer and Raylene Keightley.
Old Mutual shares closed 0.91percent higher at R18.77 on the JSE on Friday.