Nkandla SMS ruling a ‘victory for freedom of speech’

2014-04-04 13:39

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The DA has welcomed as a victory for freedom of speech the high court finding that the SMS in which it accused President Jacob Zuma of stealing public money was fair comment.

“This is both a victory for freedom of speech and for the truth about [upgrades to Zuma’s home at] Nkandla,” Democratic Alliance Gauteng premier candidate Mmusi Maimane said today.

The DA’s SMS 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.” It was sent to prospective voters in Gauteng.

The African National Congress brought an application for the DA to retract the SMS, stop sending it and apologise, or be fined up to R200 000.

Last month, Public Protector Thuli Madonsela released a report on security upgrades totalling R246 million to Zuma’s private homestead at Nkandla, in KwaZulu-Natal. She found that Zuma gave the nod to all the upgrades and that he and his family unduly benefited from them. She described the amount spent as unconscionable, and recommended that Zuma pay back a percentage.

Acting Judge Mike Hellens dismissed the ANC’s application with costs today. The court found that the SMS constituted fair comment.

“The fact that 1.6 million voters in Gauteng have been communicated the truth about Nkandla has now been backed by a court of law,” Maimane said. The court also found that the ANC had failed to properly argue its case by not tabling the findings of Madonsela’s report.

“The ANC never tabled the Nkandla report in court because they can’t admit to what it says. The fact remains that any reasonable person can conclude that money was stolen to upgrade the president’s R246m private homestead,” said Maimane.

In his judgment, Hellens read extracts from Madonsela’s report and referred to the Oxford Dictionary definition of the word “loot”.

In her report, Madonsela found that the Nkandla upgrades were a “licence to loot”. “The judge also disagreed with the ANC’s interpretation of electoral law because it conflicts with ‘freedom of expression’ and the Bill of Rights,” Maimane said.

He said the ANC’s case was “based on fear” about its support in Gauteng for the general election next month.

“The DA repeats our call for the president to be impeached and for criminal charges of corruption to be carried out against him.”

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