GroundUp wins lottery court battle

Chairperson of the National Lotteries Commission (NLC) board, Alfred Nevhutanda and NLC commissioner Thabang Mampane.
Chairperson of the National Lotteries Commission (NLC) board, Alfred Nevhutanda and NLC commissioner Thabang Mampane.
Jan Gerber,News24
  • GroundUp scored a victory in the High Court this week after legal action against its reporting was dropped.
  • GroundUp has written extensively about alleged corruption and wrongdoing connected to the Lottery.
  • The United Civil Society in Action said it was acting to protect the confidentiality of recipients of National Lotteries Commission grants.

United Civil Society in Action (UCSA) has withdrawn its court action against GroundUp and committed to paying our legal costs.

In June, the UCSA began litigating against us in the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria.

The organisation wanted the court to declare GroundUp was breaching a regulation of the Lotteries Act that, they claim, protects the confidentiality of recipients of National Lotteries Commission (NLC) grants.

If the UCSA had been successful, we would have had to remove articles that have exposed corruption, incompetence, and conflicts of interest by NLC employees and grant recipients.

The NLC was cited as a second respondent by the UCSA, but its affidavit in the case made it clear it supported the UCSA's arguments.

ALSO READ | Lotteries Commission threatens GroundUp with charges after reports questioning project funding

The UCSA appears to have only been formed this year. Other than reporting it had held a protest, primarily against GroundUp, the publication had never previously reported on this organisation.

It is not clear how the UCSA is funded, what purpose it has beyond trying to stop information about recipients of lottery grants being published, or what standing it had to have brought this court case. All this leads us to suspect the UCSA is acting in cahoots with the NLC.

Both the South African National Editors' Forum and Media Monitoring Africa had given notice they intended to join the case as respondents, effectively putting them on the same side as GroundUp. These two organisations intended to argue the regulation the UCSA has been relying on is unconstitutional.

Several recipients of lottery grants also intended to join the case as friends of the court. They intended to argue the NLC should indeed make its list of recipients public.

NLCS's U-turns on publishing grant recipients

About one third of every lottery ticket sale is supposed to be distributed by the NLC to organisations that do good works. This was the justification for the lottery when it was introduced two decades ago.

Until 2018, the NLC published a list of its grant recipients with its annual reports. Following media reports exposing corruption and conflicts of interest, the NLC failed to publish its list of recipients with its latest annual report. It justified this decision by citing the same regulation as the UCSA in its court case against us.

But following pressure from the Department of Trade and Industry and Parliament, it appears the NLC has backed down from this position. It has stated on its website it will publish its grant recipients in its next annual report.

GroundUp is still facing a court application from Leslie Ramulifho, whose forgeries and misuse of lottery funds the website has exposed. He wants a court to force GroundUp to remove the publication's articles about him.

Also still suing the news website for defamation is Phillemon Letwaba, the suspended COO of the NLC. GroundUp exposed how contracts for lottery funded projects have gone to companies run by his family members.

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