This coming Tuesday, June 18, the High Court in Johannesburg will rule on whether or not the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), its leader Julius Malema, and its national spokesperson Dr Mbuyiseni Ndlozi will be granted leave to appeal a defamation ruling in a case brought by former finance minister Trevor Manuel.
On May 30, it was ruled that the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) had 24 hours to remove statements about Manuel from all the party’s media platforms and that it should apologise to him after they were found to be “defamatory and false”.
The party was also ordered to pay damages of R500,000, money that Manuel said he would donate to charity. It was also ruled that the three respondents must pay Manuel’s legal costs.
EFF leader Julius Malema tweeted on the same day as the ruling that the party had instructed its attorneys to appeal it.
“Not even courts should be allowed to silence the truth, also if that truth is against the Thuma Mina group of the ruling elite,” he said.
The party, as well as Malema and Ndlozi, were interdicted by the court “from publishing any statement” that says or implies that Manuel “is engaged in corruption and nepotism in the selection of the Commissioner of the South African Revenue Service”.
In a statement, the EFF said the judgment on Thursday “related to our correct observation, which Manuel does not dispute, that he was conflicted in interviewing Edward Kieswetter because they are friends”.
The party said it had made the statement about Manuel in a political context.
“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 statement reads.
The statement further reads that the EFF finds it surprising and unusual that the matter “was accorded the status of urgency when in our view there was nothing urgent about it”.
“It is concerning that there is a growing view among South Africans that our courts are too eager to find in favour of the so-called Thuma Mina or New Dawn faction of the ruling party, even when the law seems very clearly against them. We, however, have faith that this has not yet affected our entire judiciary hence we are appealing to the higher courts.”
In his judgment, Judge J Matojane said the party’s conduct and that of Ndlozi and Malema “has been egregious and hurtful”.
“The motive and conduct of the respondents are relevant. 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 Manuel in his person, and professionally, through the widespread dissemination of the defamatory statement.”
In a statement in March, the EFF accused Manuel of nepotism and corruption in influencing the appointment of new Sars commissioner Kieswetter.
Manuel approached the high court after the party accused him of a conflict of interest in the appointment.
Manuel was the head of a selection panel that interviewed candidates for the post of commissioner. The tax agency had been without a permanent head since Tom Moyane was suspended and later fired in 2018. The panel made recommendations, but was not involved in Kieswetter’s final selection.
(Compiled by Daniel Friedman. Background reporting, Makhosandile Zulu)