Trevor Manuel. File Picture: GALLO IMAGES/NETWERK24/FELIX DLANGAMANDLA
Trevor Manuel. File Picture: GALLO IMAGES/NETWERK24/FELIX DLANGAMANDLA

The high court in Johannesburg dismissed with costs an application by the EFF for leave to appeal against a judgment ordering the party to pay former finance minister Trevor Manuel R500,000 for defaming him.

The EFF said it would now approach the Supreme Court of Appeal. 

In May, judge Elias Matojane also ordered the EFF to remove a statement about Manuel from all of its media platforms about the interview process for new SA Revenue Service (Sars) commissioner, Edward Kieswetter.

Manuel went to court in response to a statement by the EFF on March 27, shared on the party's official Twitter account, which accused him of nepotism and corruption in influencing the appointment of Kieswetter. Manuel chaired the selection panel that interviewed shortlisted candidates for the job.

The former finance minister had, however, recused himself when Kieswetter was interviewed because Kieswetter was Sars deputy commissioner at the time that Manuel was the country's finance minister.

Following the judgment, the EFF, leader Julius Malema and spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi applied for leave to appeal against Matojane’s judgment. Manuel opposed the application.

In its application for leave to appeal, the EFF had argued that Manuel adduced no evidence to demonstrate that he had suffered and continued to suffer harm to his reputation.

But Matojane said in his judgment on Tuesday: “The publication of a defamatory matter results in presumed damages even if the applicant cannot prove actual damages. The court assumes that the aggrieved person has suffered harm to his reputation.

“It is [the EFF, Malema and Ndlozi] who are required to demonstrate that Manuel was not harmed,” he said.

Matojane also said the defence to the defamation claim that was proffered by the EFF — that the statement was true and in the public interest — could not help the EFF, Malema and Ndlozi.

Matojane said the EFF parties in the case had conceded that the information contained in the statement was false.

“There can never be a public interest in the continued publication of a statement once it is known that it contains deliberate falsehoods. Such publication is inherently malicious. Malice is established where someone publishes a defamatory expression knowing that it is false and recklessly indifferent as to whether it is true or false,” Matojane said.

Matojane said the EFF parties also complained that the fine of R500,000 was too high. He dismissed this complaint and said the Supreme Court of Appeal had explained in a judgment that each case must be addressed in its facts.

Matojane also cited another judgment of the Johannesburg high court from 1924, which stated that the amount of damages was entirely in the discretion of the court. He said false allegations of corruption and nepotism were among the most serious allegations that one person can make against another.

“Corrupt people are loathed in civilised societies ... The statement was published with complete disregard for the truth and with the sole intention to injure Manuel as shown by the stubborn refusal to remove the statement on their social media platforms despite its known falsity.”