The Economic Freedom Fighters has been ordered to cough up R500 000 for the “defamatory and false” comments made about Trevor Manuel pertaining to the appointment of Edward Kieswetter as the new commissioner of the SA Revenue Service.
In a judgment delivered in the South Gauteng High Court on Thursday morning, Judge Keoagile Elias Matojane also ordered the EFF to remove the statements from all their media platforms within 24 hours and apologise to Manuel.
Manuel approached the court after the party refused to apologise for accusing him of nepotism.
In the statement the EFF said: “One of the candidates who was interviewed and favoured by the panel, is a dodgy character called Edward Kieswetter, who is not just a relative of Trevor Manuel, but a close business associate and companion.
“Kieswetter used to be a deputy SARS commissioner, unlawfully appointed to that position by Trevor Manuel when Pravin Gordhan was SARS commissioner. Kieswetter was in SARS during the time of the illegal intelligence unit established by Pravin Gordhan, to hound off political opponents and commit corruption.”
The judgment acknowledged the length and breadth that the tweet had travelled – it was not only tweeted both on the EFF’s twitter feed as well as that of its leader, Julius Malema, but also received wide coverage in the media and on online channels that draw high volumes of daily traffic.
Matojane said that the EFF knew that the impugned statement was false because the “EFF members of parliament were present on February 7 when the president announced that he was implementing the recommendations of the Nugent Commission to appoint a new SARS Commissioner in his State of the Nation Address.
“They were also present on February 13 when retired Justice Nugent presented his report to the parliamentary standing committee on finance. As detailed above, the EFF sent a parliamentary question to the minister of finance asking why Justice Nugent had recommended a ‘secret interview process’.”
According to the judgment, the EFF also knew that Manuel played no role in determining that the process would be conducted in accordance with the recommendations of the Nugent commission, and they knew that the appointment process was conducted in accordance with the recommendation of the Nugent commission, the terms of reference and the SARS Act.
“There is therefore no basis for saying that the process was secretive. Even if the process was secretive, they had a legal remedy that they could have resorted to.”
In addition, the allegation that Manuel unlawfully appointed Kieswetter to the position of deputy SARS commissioner when he was minister of finance was patently false, because the president appointed Kieswetter in terms of the SARS Act.
“There is no doubt that the statement would generally tend to lower Manuel’s reputation in the estimation of right-thinking members of society, as the tweet implies that is was dishonest, unscrupulous and lacking in integrity,” the judge said.
He called the conduct of the EFF and its leaders Mbuyiseni Ndlozi and Julius Malema “egregious and hurtful”.
“In response to a letter to the EFF by Mr Manuel, in which he refuted the claims in respect of Mr Kieswetter and where he requested the EFF to withdraw the allegations or face legal action, Mr Malema replied in a tweet to Annika Larsen of eNCA that Mr Manuel ‘can go to hell, we are not scared of him’.
“The motive and conduct of the respondents are relevant,” said the judge.
“They stubbornly refuse to retract, apologise or remove the impugned statement from their social media platforms, when it is evident that they should do so. These factors collectively establish the existence of actual malice and a desire to hurt Mr Manuel in his person, and professionally, through the widespread dissemination of the defamatory statement.”
The judge ordered an award of R500 000 in general damages, which, Manuel indicated prior to the judgment being handed down, would be donated to charity. He also ordered the EFF to remove the statement and apologise.
Read the full report here: