ANC, DA lock horns over Nkandla SMS

The opposition accused the president of stealing public money for upgrades to his private home.

The ANC accused the DA of using inflammatory language in an SMS accusing President Jacob Zuma of stealing public funds for Nkandla. Picture: File.

JOHANNESBURG - The ANC has gone head-to-head with the Democratic Alliance (DA) in court on Wednesday over an SMS sent by the opposition to over a million people.

The message accused President Jacob Zuma of stealing money from the public to fund upgrades at his Nkandla home in KwaZulu-Natal.

The ruling party says the DA violated the Electoral Act by suggesting the president stole from state coffers, arguing Public Protector Thuli Madonsela's report made no such finding.

The document found that Zuma improperly benefitted from the R246 million upgrades and that he violated the executive ethics code.

The report recommended the president account to Parliament and pay back part of the total sum, but did not accuse Zuma outright of theft.

The ANC wants the DA to apologise for the SMS, saying a word like "stole" is inflammatory if there is no legal proof.

ANC lawyers argued that before calling a man a murderer, one must be certain that he's been convicted of the crime.

But the DA turned this argument around, claiming there's a difference between a court definition of a murderer and the definition used on the streets or around dinner tables.

Video: ANC and DA in court.

Referring to a standard legal test, the DA argued that the so-called reasonable man would read Madonsela's report and conclude that Zuma stole from the taxpayer.

In other words, the average member of public would easily understand Madonsela's conclusion to mean that the president had stolen the funds.

The DA further argued it had a constitutional right to freedom of speech and that politicians in South Africa needed a thick skin to survive.

The party's Mmusi Maimane, who's running as the DA candidate for Gauteng premier, says the ANC's case is purely political.

"The ANC today is posturing because they're fully aware of the fact that in Gauteng, they are tracking below 50 percent [in the polls]."

ANC spokesperson Jackson Mthembu accused the opposition of poisoning the electoral environment in the run-up to 7 May elections.

"You cannot speak lies about your competitor in these elections. That's why we're here and we're hopeful the court will do what is right."

The issue of whether the SMS was aimed at Zuma in his private capacity or as the head of state was also debated.

Judgment is expected on Friday.