Former finance minister Trevor Manuel. Picture: Karen Sandison/African News Agency(ANA)

Johannesburg - The high court in Johannesburg on Thursday ordered the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) to apologise to former finance minister Trevor Manuel within 24 hours for making defamatory and false remarks about him in March.

The red berets were further ordered to pay R500 000 in damages and foot Manuel's legal costs.

"It is declared that the respondents' unlawful publication of the statement was and continues to be unlawful. The respondents are ordered to remove the statement within 24 hours from all media platforms, including the first and and third respondents' Twitter accounts. The respondents are ordered to publish a notice on all their media platforms, within 24 hours, in which they unconditionally retract and apologise for the allegations made about the applicant in the statement," read Judge Elias Matojane' judgement. The first respondent in the case in the EFF and the third respondent is the party's leader Julius Malema.

Manuel took the EFF to court after the latter claimed nepotism in the search and appointment of the new SA Revenue Services commissioner. Finance Minister Tito Mboweni appointed a panel, headed by Manuel, to search for a replacement for the embattled Tom Moyane. Edward Kieswetter was subsequently appointed tax boss in March this year.

The EFF criticised the secrecy of the interviews, accusing Manuel of nepotism.

"The EFF objects to the nepotism involved in the corrupt process of selecting a new Sars commissioner. One of the candidates interviewed by the panel is a dodgy character called Edward Kieswetter, who isn’t just a relative of Trevor Manuel, but a close business associate," the red berets said at the time.

“We are profusely opposed to the imposition of a secretly assessed candidate by conflicted individuals. We’ll do everything we can to stop and reverse the appointment of Kieswetter. The EFF will explore all legal options to invalidate any unlawful appointment of a commissioner.”

The party described the appointment process as "corrupt".  The former finance minister dismissed the EFF's statement, saying he acted impartially and lawfully in the appointment process. He then wrote a letter to the EFF, asking the party to retract the statement and apologise, but the EFF stood its ground and wouldn't budge. 

Matojane said the conduct by the EFF and its spokesman Mbuyiseni Ndlozi were "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. Such conduct warrants a punitive costs order. Having regard to the foregoing and the general trend of awards in recent times, I believe that an award of R500,000 in general damages is merited."

Manuel has indicated to the court that he would, if awarded damages, donate the cash to charity organisations.

African News Agency/ANA