/ 18 June 2019

Court refuses EFF application to appeal Manuel defamation judgment

Last month
Last month, the court declared that the EFF had defamed Trevor Manuel when they falsely accused him of corruption and nepotism. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)

The high court has rejected an application by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) to appeal an order that the party and its leaders — Julius Malema and Mbuyiseni Ndlozi — pay R500 000 in damages to former finance minister Trevor Manuel for defamation.

Last month, the court declared that they had defamed Manuel when they falsely accused him of corruption and nepotism in the appointment of Edward Kieswetter as commissioner of the South African Revenue Service (Sars). In addition to the payment of damages, the party was ordered to apologise and to remove the statement making these claims from its media platforms.

On Tuesday, Judge Elias Matojane said there were no reasonable prospects that another court would come to a different conclusion. He said the EFF, Malema and Ndlozi could not rely on the defence that the statement was true and made in the public interest — as they had expressly conceded that the statement was false. Further, the pair could not rely on their statement being political speech.

“The respondents submit that ‘the statement itself did not need to be supported by facts or explained away, as such, on account of its political nature.’ The absolute defence of political speech alleged by the respondents has no basis in law and the respondents have made these bald averments without reference to any authority,” Matojane said.

He also described as “astonishing” the EFF’s argument that a reasonable reader would be used to the statement as consistent with the EFF’s “colourful rhetoric style”.

“The publication of defamatory and false statements, even in a colourful rhetorical style, is unlawful,” the judge said.

The EFF could not rely on the defence that their publishing the statement was reasonable, he added. They did not attempt to verify the truth of the statement from their “confidential source”, nor had they offered Manuel an opportunity to respond.

“There can never be a public interest in the continued publication of a statement once it is known that it contains deliberate falsehoods. Such publication is eminently malicious,” he said.

He also said the amount of damages awarded was appropriate. “The statement was published with complete disregard for the truth and with the sole intention to injure Mr Manuel as show by the stubborn refusal to remove the statement on their social media platforms despite its known falsity,” he said.