Court vindicates Trevor Manuel in defamation battle with EFF
The EFF called the appointment of Sars commissioner Edward Kieswetter ‘nepotistic’ and ‘corrupt’, but the court was having none of it
Former finance minister Trevor Manuel was vindicated in his battle with the EFF, with the high court in Pretoria awarding him R500,000 in damages, which Manuel said he will donate to charity.
Manuel sued the EFF, its leader Julius Malema and spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi after they alleged in a statement that he had overseen a "nepotistic" and "corrupt" process to appoint new SA Revenue Service (Sars) commissioner Edward Kieswetter.
Manuel filed an application in April, asking the court to declare the EFF’s comments about him defamatory and false.
He also wanted the court to compel the party to remove the statement from its online platforms, as well as interdict it from repeating similar allegations.
The case was heard earlier in May.
Judge Elias Matojane declared that publication of the statement by the EFF, Malema and Ndlozi was and continued to be unlawful.
"Mr Manuel has been injured in his dignity. He is entitled to the declaratory order that he seeks, including an apology from the respondents," Matojane said.
The judge said the motive and conduct of the party, Malema and Ndlozi were relevant.
"They stubbornly refuse to retract, apologise or remove the impugned statement from their social media platforms, when it is evident they should do so," Matojane said.
"These factors collectively establish the existence of actual malice and desire to hurt Mr Manuel … through the widespread dissemination of the defamatory statement."
The EFF said it would appeal against the judgment and that it stands by its statement that Manuel was conflicted in interviewing Kieswetter, because they are friends.
"Our constitutional jurisprudence is very clear on separating the standard to be applied to allow for free political speech, which must not be confused with normal private interactions. The court seriously erred in not applying the correct standard," the party said.
Matojane ordered the EFF, Malema and Ndlozi to remove the statement within 24 hours from all their media platforms, including their personal Twitter accounts.
They were also ordered, within 24 hours, to publish a notice on all their media platforms on which the statement was published, in which they unconditionally retract and apologise for the allegations made about Manuel.
They were also interdicted from publishing any statement that "says or implies" Manuel was involved in corruption and nepotism in Kieswetter’s appointment.
Manuel’s lawyers Pooja Dela and Dario Milo said the judgment is a victory for their client’s right to dignity and his reputation. It also bolsters public confidence in Sars.
"It is particularly gratifying that the court has declared the statement to be false and defamatory as this ensures that the public is aware that the allegations were utterly false and published without any truth," they said.
The award is one of the biggest in an SA court to have been made for defamation.
In 2016 former intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils sued then Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Association chair Kebby Maphatsoe. The case ended in a settlement in which Maphatsoe agreed to pay R500,000.
Manuel’s lawyers took note of the EFF’s intention to appeal and said they are awaiting the application.