Trevor Manuel. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
Trevor Manuel. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

Trevor Manuel’s participation in some parts of Edward Kieswetter’s application for the position of SA Revenue Service (Sars) boss showed the former finance minister had “actively participated” in the assessment process of someone he had a personal relationship with, EFF leader Julius Malema said.

Malema said in court documents filed at the Johannesburg high court in response to a  civil suit by Manuel that the former minister and Kieswetter were related because they “enjoyed a personal relationship or friendship” which he believed, in turn, justified the use of the word “nepotistic”.

Manuel is suing the EFF, Malema and party spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi for alleging he was conflicted in the selection of “his relative” Kieswetter.

Manuel chaired the selection panel that conducted interviews for the new Sars commissioner. He recused himself during Kieswetter’s interview because Kieswetter was Sars deputy commissioner while Manuel was finance minister.

“My engagement with Mr Kieswetter was thus an arms-length‚ professional relationship. As the published report records‚ Mr Kieswetter and I have remained on friendly terms. That is the extent of our relationship‚” Manuel said.

Manuel said in his court documents that he had recused himself “out of an abundance of caution”.

“There was no reason for me to have recused myself from participating in the other stages‚ some of which were largely dispassionate‚ such as the competency and psychometric testing.”

The EFF party accused Manuel in a media statement in March of nepotism and corruption in influencing the appointment of Kieswetter.

Malema said they issued the media statement after a source informed them Manuel and Kieswetter were relatives.

Malema also defended the statement‚ arguing that the scrutiny of government and state institutions was necessary and was “heightened during the Zuma presidency”.

“The recent revelations at the state capture commission of inquiry are but one example of the need for greater public oversight and accountability of state institutions.”

Manuel responded‚ arguing that a reasonable reader would deduce from the use of the words “relative” and “nepotism” in the statement that there was a familial connection.

Manuel wants the EFF to remove the statement‚ which is still published on several platforms. 

“These are very serious charges. I cannot have these false accusations hanging over my head.… They undermine a reputation I established over a lifetime of service to SA.”

Manuel argues that if Malema wants to enjoy the defences reserved for the media‚ such as unknown sources‚ those standards must be applied across the board‚ including the right of reply.

Malema conceded on Tuesday that the EFF uses language which is “open to criticism as being heavy-handed‚ inelegant‚ unfair‚ overly critical or even insulting” at times, but said the attack on Manuel was justifiable.

The matter was postponed to May 14.