An ANC supporter holds a flag of the ANC while the President Jacob Zuma addresses ANC Gauteng Cadre Assembly in Pretoria. Picture: Phill Magakoe

Johannesburg - The African National Congress on Tuesday night won a major boost in the Electoral Court barely hours before polls open for voting in the country’s fifth democratic elections.

The court ordered the opposition Democratic Alliance to apologise to the ruling party for a bulk SMS sent to 1, 5 million Gauteng voters alleging President Jacob Zuma had ‘stolen’ R246 million in public funds to build his home at Nkandla in rural KwaZulu-Natal.

The DA has been ordered to send messages to the original recipients of the March 24 SMS to retract the original message and apologise for it. They were further ordered to do this at their own cost.

In a case heard last month, the Johannesburg High Court had originally dismissed the ANC’s original case, agreeing with the DA that their SMS amounted to ‘fair comment’ based on Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s report on the security upgrades at Nkandla.

The original message, sent to potential voters in the province that is the country’s biggest electoral prize read:

“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.”

However the Electoral Court disagreed that the SMS constituted fair comment on two grounds. First, the statement the DA sent out did not meet the standards to be considered as comment, but was rather a statement of fact which purported to be based on the findings of the Public Protector’s report. Secondly, as a statement of fact, the SMS was false and could not be justified on the basis of the Public Protector’s report. As such it was a violation of section 89 (2) (c ) of the Electoral Act, which prohibits the publication of false information, as well as the Electoral Code of Conduct to which all parties are bound.

In its judgement earlier this evening, the court made the following order: “The DA is directed to forthwith retract the SMS by dispatching at its own cost, a text message via the mobile phone bulk short message service to all earlier recipients of the SMS stating that: The DA retracts the SMS dispatched to you which falsely stated that President Zuma stole R246m to build his home. The SMS violated the Code and the Act.”

Political Bureau