Johannesburg - The ANC is to appeal against a court ruling that dismissed its objections to a Democratic Alliance sms accusing President Jacob Zuma of stealing public money.
“(We) believe that the Acting Judge (Mike) Hellens erred in his application of the Electoral Act by being guided by defamation laws in what was electoral matter,” spokesman Jackson Mthembu said in a statement.
“The ANC believes in robust political discourse and in-depth interrogation of issues. However, we maintain that the Electoral Act and the Electoral Code exact a high standard of compliance during elections.”
He said the robustness or fierceness of political discourse should be rooted in the truthfulness of its content.
On Friday, Hellens in the High Court in Johannesburg dismissed the African National Congress' application, with the sms being described as fair comment.
“The use of the phrase... 'licence to loot'... comes very close to the wording 'stole' used in... the sms,” he said in his judgment.
“In these circumstances, I do not find the sms using the words that it does, constitutes a breach of section 89(2)(c) of the Electoral Act or item 91(b)(2) of the Electoral Code.
In the sms, sent to over 1.5 million voters in Gauteng, the DA said: “The Nkandla report shows how Zuma stole your money to build his R246m home. Vote DA on 7 May to beat corruption. Together for change.”
Democratic Alliance Gauteng premier candidate Mmusi Maimane welcomed the ANC's appeal.
“We are looking forward to telling another court and the SA public why we were justified in saying that Zuma stole people’s money to build his R246 million Nkandla home,” he said in a statement.
“This appeal is a further sign of how desperate the ANC has become at the prospect of a close election in Gauteng.”
The DA saw Hellens' judgment as both a victory for freedom of speech and for the truth regarding Nkandla.
“It appears that the ANC will now attempt to argue that freedom of speech should be restricted by electoral law during South African elections,” he said.
Mthembu said like other established democracies, South Africa prohibited the publication of false information by any party in order to influence the conduct or outcome of an election.
“The African National Congress is confident that a higher court, in this instance the Electoral Court of South Africa, will reach a different conclusion on this matter.”
Maimane said, based on Public Protector Thuli Madonsela's report on Zuma's private Nkandla residence, a reasonable person would conclude money was stolen to upgrade it.
“In the original application the ANC avoided tabling the Nkandla report in court becausethey can’t admit to what it actually says,” he said.
“It remains to be seen how they will conduct an appeal without admitting to the Public Protector’s damning findings against President Zuma.”
Last month, Madonsela found Zuma and his family had unduly benefited from security upgrades to his Nkandla home.