A screen grab of the notification on the ANC's website.
A screen grab of the notification on the ANC's website.

The ANC’s bid to have the domain name of its original website returned to it has failed after the South African Institute of Intellectual Property Law (SAIIPL) refused its dispute against Unwembi Communications. 

A battle between the ANC and the communications company, that has left the ruling party without its official website, has been going on since September last year. 

Unwembi Communications is suing the ANC for R32m for hosting and developing the party’s website and membership system, which it says the party has not paid for.

When the ANC’s official website went down in September, attorneys for Unwembi Communications said they had instructed the service provider to withhold services until the monies had been paid. In October, the party launched its new “revamped” website but on a completely different domain name.

Despite the fight over the money owed to Unwembi, the ANC has been trying to get its domain name — anc.org.za — registered in the party’s name and took the matter for mediation. 

The SAIIPL released its decision on Thursday, saying the adjudicator found that the ANC had not proven its case. The SAIIPL said the ANC gave no indication of its rights to the domain name. It also did not provide documentary evidence that it had instructed Unwembi to register the domain name on its behalf. 

“ [The ANC] has given no evidence of any rights that it has in ‘ANC’. It merely made the bald allegation that ‘the African National Congress (ANC) was formed in 1912 as a liberation movement’,” the SAIIPL said in its decision. 

It said the adjudicator was limited to making a decision based on the facts that had been presented. The lawsuit against the ANC is still proceeding. 

The service provider is claiming that the ANC owes it R26.5m for the membership system agreement and R6m for the agreement on their websites.

Following the decision, the ANC says it will pursue further legal action regarding its domain name and websites, the party says it has already briefed counsel.

The ANC says it was the first political party to register a website and domain name in 1996.

Unwembi has been managing the ANC Website since 1997.

Acting ANC spokesperson, Zizi Kodwa, said after the 2017 Nasrec conference the party had reviewed its key systems, including the management of its websites and membership system. He says that the party went on a request for proposal process to solicit new ideas to “address the problems identified by its national conference and to aid its modernisation as a party”.

Kodwa says the party negotiated an exit agreement with Unwembi, which was signed in September 2018, to which he claims the company immediately reneged on.

“The struggle to regain ownership and control over the ANC’s domain name, the data, and the information on its websites, is a matter of principle. It is an important part of the 107 year-old legacy of our movement and people, and no private company or individual can claim rights over this rich and illustrious history,” Kodwa said.

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