Trevor Manuel. Picture: MARTIN RHODES
Trevor Manuel. Picture: MARTIN RHODES

Former finance minister Trevor Manuel has failed to show the actual harm that has befallen him, EFF lawyer Vuyani Ngalwana told the high court in Johannesburg on Tuesday.

Manuel is suing the EFF, its leader Julius Malema and its spokesperson, Mbuyiseni Ndlozi, for R500,000 for general damages after the opposition party issued a statement on March 27 accusing the Old Mutual chair of nepotism and corruption.

They alleged that he had influenced the appointment of a relative, new SA Revenue Service (Sars) commissioner Edward Kieswetter.

Manuel was appointed by President Cyril Ramaphosa to head a panel that sought to find a new Sars commissioner after the dismissal of Tom Moyane.

Manuel has admitted that his relationship with Kieswetter extended from his time as finance minister when Kieswetter was a deputy Sars commissioner. He said he was only involved in the early stages of the selection process and later recused himself during the interviews.

“He (Manuel) has not demonstrated the actual harm that has befallen him. Has Mr Manuel been asked to resign from his numerous board directorships? No.

“Have there been demurring murmurs in Stellenbosch … where he goes out shopping or people huddling in silent whispers wherever he moves? You will find nothing on that in the (court) papers,” Ngwalwana said.

Ngalwana said the EFF had information from a credible source when it issued the statement. “At the time of the issuing of the statement, the EFF and Dr Ndlozi did not know that the information was not true.”

However, Ngalwana said the issue contained in the EFF statement was not about Manuel, but was about the secrecy surrounding the interviewing process of the new Sars commissioner. “It is the transparency of the interview process that has always been an issue.”

Ngalwana said after receiving the information from the source, the EFF wrote to parliament to ask whether potential conflict of interests by members of the interviewing panel and the interviewees were taken into account before the panel was appointed. He said this indicated the EFF had no intention to harm Manuel’s reputation.

Ngalwana said Manuel was simply anxious about the harm to his reputation. “He has not shown any evidence that his reputation has been harmed.”

He told the court that Manuel’s case rested on three factual positions. One was whether the EFF, Malema and Ndlozi were in possession of information which led them to believe that the appointment of Kieswetter was corrupt. The second was whether the EFF’s sole intention was to cause harm to Manuel, and the third was that the EFF statement had caused him immense reputational harm.

Counsel for Manuel, Carol Steinberg, said the sting of the EFF’s statement was that her client, in his capacity as chair of the selection panel, conducted a corrupt and clandestine process which led to the appointment of Kieswetter. She added that the EFF’s statement alleged that Kieswetter was a relative, a companion and close business associate of Manuel.

“The sting of the article is that Mr Manuel conducted himself in a nepotistic manner.”

Steinberg said when someone accused another of being corrupt, the court presumed that statement was harmful.

“When one accepts that (accusing someone of ) corruption is defamatory, one cannot disregard Mr Manuel’s complaint as anxiety. This is not anxiety. It is a deep slur on a hard-earned reputation,” Steinberg said.

Judge Elias Matojane reserved judgment.