‘Regrettable’ DA claiming victory in 'Nkandla SMS' ruling: ANC

JANUARY 19, 2015

The African National Congress (ANC) on Monday said that it was regrettable that the Democratic Alliance (DA) was celebrating and claiming victory in the Constitutional Court when that court agreed with the ANC that the 'Nkandla SMS' was opinion and not fact.

Shortly before last year’s national general elections, the ANC lodged a complaint to the Electoral Court accusing the DA of publishing fabricated claims after it had send out a SMS to 1.5 million voters in Gauteng which stated that: “The Nkandla report shows how Zuma stole your money to build his R246 million home. Vote DA on 7 May to beat corruption. Together for change.”

The message came shortly after Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s report, Secure in Comfort, which discovered that Zuma had unduly benefitted from the R246 million security upgrades at his private Nkandla residence.

“Today`s ruling reaffirms our view that the DA sent out a false statement in order to influence the outcome of an election last year,” said ANC National Spokesperson, Zizi Kodwa.

“The Constitutional Court has agreed with the ANC that the SMS sent by the DA was an opinion of the DA and not a fact. It is not true that President Zuma stole taxpayers` money to build his homestead in Nkandla - a point made by the successive reports of competent authorities including the Public Protector.

“It is regrettable that in spite of the ruling, which supports our view, the DA continues to play politics, hailing this as a victory when the Constitutional Court has been clear that the DA presented their opinions as fact on such an important matter.”

He said that the ANC accepts the ruling by the Constitutional Court “and continues to believe that the statement made by the DA was an outright attack on our democracy as it allowed the party to send out misleading information disguised as fair comment in order to influence the outcome of an election”.

Kodwa said that despite this “desperate offensive” by the DA, the electorate remained loyal to the ANC “understanding the important work being done by various state agencies to deal with the real problem of Nkandla - which is the inflation of prices by contractors and individuals tasked with delivering on the project”.

“It is incumbent upon all of us as South Africans, as part of strengthening our maturing democracy and in the contestation of ideas, we ensure that the opinions of others do not get presented as factual information in order to gain baseless advantage as has been done in this instance,” he said.

DA victory

On Monday afternoon, the DA’s parliamentary leader, Mmusi Maimane, issued a statement claiming that the Concourt had ruling to dismiss the ANC’s case was a victory for democracy.

“This is a major victory for freedom of speech, proving again that South Africans have the right to form robust opinions about the issues affecting our nation,” he said.

“While the ANC may not like the DA exposing their record in government, the Constitutional Court has today affirmed that robust political debate must prevail in South African elections.

“The Court found that the DA’s SMS fell outside the ambit of the Electoral Act and the Code. Specifically, section 89(2) of the Act cannot be used to limit the free expression of comment and opinion during an election campaign.

“The DA’s SMS can therefore be freely expressed as a comment or opinion based on an interpretation of the Public Protector’s report.”

Judgement

The joint judgment reads: “An election without as much freedom to speak as is constitutionally permissible would be stunted and inefficient. For the right to freedom of expression is one of a “web of mutually supporting rights the Constitution affords.”

It further states: “Within the boundaries the Constitution sets, it is good for democracy, good for social life and good for individuals to permit as much open and vigorous discussion of public affairs as possible.”

Maimane said that the judgment also has profound implications for the Constitutional Court’s impending review of ICASA’s decision to ban the DA’s Ayisafani television commercial.

“We will be making substantially the same arguments in defence of freedom of speech that we put before the court in the SMS case, when the ICASA matter is heard,” he said.

“Democracy has indeed prevailed today, because without freedom of speech what kind of democracy have we got?

“Through this judgment, the ANC must accept that no matter how much they try and frustrate the process of justice around Nkandla, South Africans have the right to robust opinions about the President’s conduct in this matter.”

He further said that the judgment reaffirms that robust debate lies at the heart of freedom of speech in South Africa, and is of great importance to our constitutional democracy especially in the context of election campaigns.

“Today is indeed a victory for freedom of speech and the Constitutional rights afforded to all South Africans,” Maimane said.

Photo caption: ANC National Spokesperson, Zizi Kodwa. image: YouTube.