The EFF has filed an appeal against a Gauteng High Court (Johannesburg) ruling which ordered it to apologise and pay damages to Trevor Manuel, in a case involving claims made by the party against the former Finance Minister on social media.

The court ruled that the remarks relating to Manuel's involvement in the selection of the SARS Commissioner were defamatory and false, and instructed the party, together with its leader, Julius Malema, and spokesperson, Mbuyiseni Ndlozi to pay him R500 000 in damages, notes a Fin24 report.

The party's case, set out in its papers, are broadly centred on freedom of expression and professional ethics in the public administration. According to the party, the judge’s finding that its statements against Manuel were defamatory curtails the right to free speech.

‘To outlaw such speech by means of defamation impermissibly erodes the protections afforded to persons in terms of section 16 of the Constitution,’ the party said.

Manuel had approached the court after the party refused to apologise for accusing him of nepotism, among other things, in the process that led to the appointment of Edward Kieswetter as the new SARS Commissioner. The EFF argues that the High Court ruling sets ‘a dangerous precedent’ in terms of the provisions of the Constitution, which governs the basic values and principles of public administration.

Manuel chaired the selection panel that interviewed candidates for the post of the tax agency's new commissioner, and the EFF claimed that his involvement in the process was nepotistic, as he had a personal relationship with Kieswetter and the two were business associates.

Full Fin24 report

The EFF's appeal papers list several reasons the party believes it was right to call Manuel out in terms of Kieswetter's appointment, notes a second Fin24 report. It argues that Manuel did not present any evidence of harm against him and says although it is common cause that Manuel did not participate in the interview ‘it is also common cause that Mr Manuel participated in the assessment of all the short-listed candidates, including the new SARS Commissioner … and ‘this is not a recusal as recognised in law … (which is) an irrevocable withdrawal from proceedings terminating the person's continued participation therein’.

It also claims its statement was ‘political speech’ and therefore exempt from being considered as defamation; that its followers are familiar with its style and ‘colourful language’; that ‘the court heard no evidence from the EFF in respect of what steps they may or may not have taken to verify the content of the statement themselves...’ and that there was no malice in the statement. It added: ‘Respectfully, even after the statement was demonstrated to be false, the (EFF) was under no obligation to take down the statement. The statement only acquired the legal effect of being defamatory when the court declared it as such. The fact that the (EFF) did not take down the statement after Mr Manuel told them otherwise is irrelevant. Nothing turns on this.’

Full Fin24 report