The DA was within it rights when it said in an SMS that President Jacob Zuma had stolen money, the Constitutional Court ruled on Monday.
It set aside a ruling by the Electoral Court that an SMS calling Zuma a thief fell short of the test for fair comment.
The Constitutional Court set aside the Electoral Court’s ruling in favour of the African National Congress, saying the opposition Democratic Alliance did act within its rights when it sent the SMS.
In the SMS, sent to over 1.5 million voters in Gauteng last March, 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.”
The SMS followed findings by Public Protector Thuli Madonsela that Zuma and his family unduly benefited from some of the R246 million spent in security upgrades to his KwaZulu-Natal residence.
The ANC went to the High Court in Johannesburg to secure an order declaring it amounted to the publication of false information.
But the judge agreed with the DA who argued the text message was fair comment based on the protector’s findings.
The DA also said it was entitled to send the message in terms of its right to freedom of expression and right to political activity.
The High Court found that the SMS amounted to fair comment and dismissed the ANC’s application.
But the ruling party successfully appealed to the Electoral Court which found that the SMS fell short of the test for fair comment.
The matter went to the Constitutional Court where the DA argued this was an important test for freedom of speech and free political activity. It said the track record of those in power needed to be open to robust scrutiny, especially during election time.
But the ANC maintained that the SMS was a false statement.