The Johannesburg high court has ruled that comments made by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) about former finance minister Trevor Manuel and South African Revenue Service (Sars) commissioner Edward Kieswetter are “defamatory and false”.
“The conduct of the EFF, Dr Ndlozi and Mr Malema has been egregious and hurtful. In response to a letter to the EFF by Mr Manuel …. Mr Malema replied in a tweet … that Mr Manual ‘can go to hell, we are not scared of him’,” said Judge Keoagile Elias Matojane.
He ordered the EFF to remove the statements from all their media platforms and to apologise to Manuel on Twitter and in a statement within 24 hours. The party has also been interdicted from making similar statements. He has also ordered the party to pay R500 000.
The statement from the EFF was published in March, after Kieswetter was appointed as commissioner of Sars. The statement alleged a “secretive” process, that was “patently nepotistic and corrupt” in the selection of the commissioner, and that Kieswetter was a relative of Manuel’s and “a close business associate and companion” – all of which was untrue said Matojane.
In April, Manuel approached the court, following the Red Berets’ refusal to apologise for the comments.
In his judgment, Matojane said: “There is no doubt that the allegations in the impugned statement that the Commissioner of SARS is a dodgy character who was appointed unlawfully harm the integrity of SARS and the National Treasury, and contributes to the already compromised tax morality among the South African public being undermined.”
Matojane rejected the arguments from the EFF that the statement was fair comment or was reasonably published, saying they knew what they said was untrue. “The conduct of the respondents both before and after the publication of the impugned statement shows that they were actuated by malice. They published the tweet with reckless indifference as to whether it was true or false.”
He added that they “stubbornly refuse to retract, apologise or remove the impugned statement from their social media platforms”. This indicated “actual malice and a desire to hurt Mr Manuel”.
Read the judgment below.