EFF loses again in Trevor Manuel defamation case

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Trevor Manuel.
Trevor Manuel.
Felix Dlangamandla
  • The Supreme Court of Appeal upheld a finding that the EFF had defamed former finance minister Trevor Manuel. 
  • Manuel sued the EFF after it released a statement in which it said he was corrupt.
  • The court said the EFF's allegations were clearly defamatory and serious.

The EFF has failed in its efforts to appeal a court ruling that it and its leadership defamed former finance minister Trevor Manuel with its false claims that he oversaw a "corrupt" process to appoint new South African Revenue Service (SARS) commissioner Edward Kieswetter.

But, in a ruling delivered on Thursday morning, the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) chose not to endorse the awarding of the "extraordinarily high" R500 000 in damages to Manuel, and referred the determination of the possible sanctions that the EFF should face – including being forced to apologise to Manuel – to another court.

The SCA was, however, scathing of the EFF, which claimed to base its attack on Manuel on a message given to it by a secret source.

"The allegations it made were clearly defamatory and concerned a public figure given the responsibility of interviewing people and advising the president on the appointment of the commissioner of SARS. That is a most serious allegation," the SCA said.

"To do so on the basis of a message of this type without any endeavour to confirm the truth of the allegations is inconsistent with the absence of an intention to injure. It demonstrates a willingness to wound irrespective of the truth of the allegations."

False claims of corruption, nepotism, 'secret meetings'

Manuel sued the EFF, its leader Julius Malema and former national spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi after they released a statement in which they said he was corrupt, nepotistic, had conducted himself unlawfully, had conducted "secret interviews" and had participated in a secretive process to select the new SARS commissioner.

They further stated that the secretive process was a deliberate attempt by Manuel to disguise his relationship and business association with Kieswetter and that he had previously made unlawful appointments to positions at SARS when he was the minister of finance.

READ | Malema: 'We are not scared of you, Trevor Manuel'

Manuel had 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 court found that the statements made by the EFF, Malema and Ndlozi were all "factually untrue" and underpinned their claims that the appointment process was "nepotistic and corrupt".

"Had steps been taken to check the accuracy of the source's information and no basis for them discovered, that would have dictated the need to take far greater care before publishing," the court said.

EFF has 24 hours to remove statement

"Other routes of enquiry could have been explored. The obvious one would have been to address Mr Manuel or Mr Kieswetter directly and ask whether the allegations were true."

The problem for the EFF in approaching Manuel directly, the court stated, was that "if the answer was that the allegations were untrue, it would remove a potential political weapon from their arsenal".

"Making an enquiry and being told the correct facts risked turning a possible bombshell into a damp squib."

The SCA's ruling means that the EFF has 24 hours to remove its defamatory and false statement about Manuel.

It has also been ordered to pay the former minister's costs on a punitive scale.

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