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

The battle between the EFF and Trevor Manuel is heading to the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) after the party lost its bid to appeal against a judgment ordering that it pay the former finance minister R500,000 in damages for defaming him.  

EFF leader Julius Malema, the party’s national spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi and the party have filed papers in the SCA in a bid to have the Pretoria high court judgment set aside. 

Manuel sued the three 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 headed the interview panel for the post of Sars commissioner, which made a recommendation to President Cyril Ramaphosa, who made the final decision. The former minister did not participate in Kieswetter’s interview.

The EFF made several allegations regarding the new commissioner’s relationship with Manuel.

In May, judge Elias Matojane declared that publication of the statement by the EFF, Malema and Ndlozi was and continued to be unlawful.

The judge found that Manuel’s dignity had been injured and that he was entitled to the declaratory order that he sought, including an apology.

Matojane said the motive and conduct of the party, Malema and Ndlozi were relevant.

In an affidavit to the SCA, on behalf of all three respondents, Malema was adamant that the publication of the statement regarding Manuel was reasonable, even if it was false and defamatory, which they are denying. 

He said the EFF’s statement about the former minister contained facts that were true and statements that were made in the public interest. The mere fact that the statement might have contained information they were not able to substantiate would not make the statement defamatory, because the overall meaning was not defamatory.

Malema said the overall meaning of the EFF’s complaint was about the interview process for the Sars commissioner being held in secret, which they said was against the laws of the country, coupled with a “concealed conflict of interest” between Manuel and Kieswetter.

Malema said these facts, taken together, showed that the statement was not defamatory at all. The EFF also claimed a secret informant had provided the information to the party.

“Unlike the media, political parties are under no ethical obligation to, nor can they expect to, call the ‘would-be-defamed’ to ask them about the truth of the statements,” he said.

“They must make use of the tools available at their disposal.”

Manuel’s lawyer, Dario Milo, said his client would oppose the application and file an answering affidavit in due course.

During a media briefing on Tuesday, Malema reiterated that Kieswetter was appointed unfairly and that Sars was being used as a weapon to “fight political opponents of white monopoly capital”.

“We are not scared of Sars, let it come. Let the new Sars commissioner come for us … [he] was appointed unfairly, in a secret interview, by Trevor Manuel,” Malema said.

With Luyolo Mkentane

quintalg@businesslive.co.za