Legal debts are mounting for the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) as it takes its application to appeal against the R500,000 Trevor Manuel ruling to the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA), after Johannesburg High Court Judge Keoagile Matojane found it had no reasonable chance of success yesterday and dismissed it with costs.
“We are studying the judgment. I don’t want to pre-empt anything, but we will be appealing it with the SCA,” EFF lawyer Ian Levitt said yesterday.
The appeal will add to escalating legal costs for the EFF, Julius Malema, and Mbuyiseni Ndlozi, who now have to bear costs for both court cases, as well as the R500,000 owed to Manuel, costs for the Karima Brown matter and the more than R200,000 owed to AfriForum – altogether believed to be nearing R1 million.
If the EFF’s SCA appeal fails, the Constitutional Court could be the party’s next port of call – if the court decides to hear it.
And then, much like it had to do with AfriForum, the EFF may have to make a plan to pay Manuel to prevent its furniture being attached by a sheriff due to non-payment.
Matojane shredded the EFF’s submission, using phrases like “astonishing submission”, “clearly not thought through”, “eminently malicious”, “egregious allegations” and “complete disregard for the truth”.
In his judgment, Matojane noted the EFF’s defence of “truth and public interest” could not assist them because “they conceded expressly in their supplementary heads of argument that the information contained in the impugned statement was false”.
According to media law expert and attorney Dario Milo, this concession – and the persistence in trying to justify the corruption allegations against Manuel – played no small part in Matojane’s decision there was no reasonable prospect for success for the EFF’s appeal to succeed.
“This judgment enhances responsible freedom of speech,” Milo said.
The EFF’s “absolute defence of political speech” had no basis in law, Matojane found.
The Constitution notes in section 58 there is “freedom of speech in the Assembly and in its committees, subject to its rules and orders”, and ministers, deputy ministers and MPs are not liable for criminal or civil action inside the walls of parliament. Section 16 also speaks of freedom of expression and is limited, as is section 58.
There is no “political speech” get-out-of-jail card for defamatory statements known to be false.
Matojane found the EFF’s submission difficult to understand since “a reasonable person would have understood the statement to mean Mr Manuel is corrupt and nepotistic … as the statement expressly said that Mr Manuel was corrupt, nepotistic and sought to hide his familial relationship with Mr Kieswetter”.
“The respondents make an astonishing submission that a reasonable reader of ordinary intelligence would be used to the kind of language used by the respondents as being consistent with ‘their colourful rhetorical style’,” Matojane said.
“The publication of defamatory and false statements, even in a colourful rhetorical style, is unlawful.”