Cell C was ordered on Thursday to pay the legal fees of a client who erected a banner criticising its service.
“The legal costs are more than the cost of the banner,” said Raymond Druker, representing disgruntled Cell C client, George Prokas.
The banner reportedly cost Prokas about R61,000.
Druker was speaking to reporters after the High Court in Johannesburg dismissed Cell C’s urgent application to have the banner removed.
The banner, which is prominently displayed on a wall outside the WorldWear Mall on Beyers Naude Drive originally read: “The most useless service provider in SA — Cell C Sandton City.”
It gave the name of the franchise manager and his phone number, and claimed he had said his “unnamed executive head refuses to assist the customer”.
The franchise manager submitted that the statement was defamatory.
However, Judge Sharise Weiner found that in Prokas’s view, what he put up was true.
She said criticism was protected as long as it held fair comment.
Weiner dismissed Cell C’s urgent application. “The application is not urgent,” she said, adding that the damage had already been done.
She claimed that Prokas had alerted the network provider to his intention to erect the banner before it went up. Cell C could have brought the matter to court then.
The dispute arose when Prokas took a phone for his son with Cell C in 2013.
However, the phone’s number belonged to someone else, who ran up a bill of R5000 by the time Prokas ended the stop-order for the phone in October last year.
Prokas found out only when he was told he was listed as a bad debtor because of the unpaid R5000 when he tried to buy a car earlier in 2014.
He sought to have the bill waived by Cell C and to be removed from the list of bad debtors by the end of October this year.
When the situation had not changed by then, Prokas threatened, in e-mail correspondence with Cell C, to put up the banner unless his complaints were dealt with. He did so when his complaints were allegedly not dealt with.
The banner, put up on November 6, was altered at the weekend to read: “Cell C the most useful cellular provider. It was not known who changed it.
Druker said his client would probably keep the banner up, but remove the franchise manager’s details.
He said Cell C would probably let the matter go, adding that “he would fall on his back” if the network provider tried to take the matter to another court.
He said the ruling sent a message to other service providers to ensure that they satisfied their clients.
Prokas did not attend for the proceedings but said, through his lawyer, that he was satisfied with the outcome.
“He’s very satisfied and happy,” said Druker.
“He says it shows that the courts are here to protect the people.”
Prokas said it was sad that people who could not afford legal services had to put up with bad service.