The ‘sting’ in the tale of the Manuel vs Malema court case
Former finance minister is suing the EFF for damages after the party criticised his role in appointing Sars boss
Former finance minister Trevor Manuel squared off against the EFF in the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg on Tuesday, where he is suing the party, its leader Julius Malema and his spokesperson, Mbuyiseni Ndlozi, for R500,000 in damages for alleged defamation.
The case concerns a statement made by the party on March 27 in which it accused Manuel of nepotism and corruption in influencing the appointment of the new SA Revenue Service Commissioner, Edward Kieswetter.
EFF counsel Vuyani Ngalwana SC told the court on Tuesday that Manuel’s case rested on three factual positions:
• Whether or not the EFF, Malema and Ndlozi possessed information which led them to believe that the appointment of Kieswetter was corrupt;
• Whether the EFF’s sole intention was to cause harm to Manuel;
• The EFF statement had caused Manuel immense reputational harm;
“[Manuel] has not demonstrated the actual harm that has befallen him. Has Mr Manuel been asked to resign from his numerous board directorships? No. Have there been demurring murmurs in Stellenbosch … where he goes out shopping, or people huddling in silent whispers wherever he moves? You will find nothing on that in the [court] papers,” said Ngalwana.
He said the EFF had information from a credible source when it issued the statement.
“At the time of the issuing of the statement, the EFF and Dr Ndlozi did not know that the information was not true.”
However, Ngalwana said the issue contained in the EFF statement was not about Manuel, but rather about the secrecy surrounding the interviewing process for the new Sars commissioner.
“It is the transparency of the interview process that has always been an issue.”
Ngalwana said after receiving the information from the source, the EFF wrote to parliament to ask whether potential conflicts of interests by members of the interviewing panel and the interviewees were taken into account before the panel members were appointed.
He said the panel received an answer in early March indicating that potential conflicts of interests were considered. Ngalwana said this indicated the EFF had no intention to harm Manuel’s reputation.
Ngalwana said Manuel was simply anxious about harm to his reputation. “He has not shown any evidence that his reputation has been harmed.”
However, Manuel’s counsel, Carol Steinberg, said the “sting” of the EFF’s statement was that Manuel, in his capacity as chairperson of the Sars selection panel, conducted a corrupt and clandestine process which led to the appointment of Kieswetter.
The EFF’s statement alleged that Kieswetter was a relative, a companion and close business associate of Manuel, said Steinberg. “The sting of the article is that Mr Manuel conducted himself in a nepotistic manner.”
She said when someone accused another of being corrupt, the court presumed that statement was harmful.
“When one accepts that [accusing someone of] corruption is defamatory, one cannot disregard Mr Manuel’s complaint as anxiety. This is not anxiety. It is a deep slur on a hard-earned reputation,” said Steinberg.
Judge Elias Matojane reserved judgment.