National

ANC taps govt funds for centenary

Glynnis Underhill

Questions are raised about whether the public should pay for the ANC's parties.

The cost of the ANC’s centenary celebrations continues to soar as more than 60 heads of state and their entourages have been invited to attend the main functions in January. The government will pick up the hefty tab for their security, which includes police, transport and accommodation, said ANC national spokesperson Keith Khoza.

But Khoza stressed it was important not to focus on the cost of the event but on the fact that the heritage and liberation of the country should be celebrated.

Asked why the public should have to bear the brunt of the costs for visiting heads of state, as well as the revamp of buildings and heritage sites, Khoza said the ANC was a national heritage in itself.

“It is 100 years old and it liberated the country. The ANC should be treated as part of our collective heritage as a nation. But the party will secure the bulk of the costs.”

All the heads of state on the African continent had been invited, said Khoza, and others further afield had expressed interest after the chairperson of the ANC, Baleka Mbete, visited Russia, France and Germany and briefed dignitaries about the centenary.

Mbete is in charge of the party’s centenary committee, which has been planning the event for two years, but did not respond to a request for an interview.

Meanwhile, locals in Bloemfontein are concerned that although the ANC has said that it is ready for the January extravaganza the renovations of historic sites are nowhere near complete and they are unaware of any arrangements for the accommodation of prominent figures.

Khoza said the details of those attending would be kept confidential for security reasons. It was not yet known what the security arrangements would cost.

“We are still waiting for some heads of state to RSVP, but we don’t believe it will cost a fortune,” he said. “Some won’t be staying for long. They might just come in for a day or a few days and leave. Others might arrange their own accommodation.”

Punting the celebrations
The Mail & Guardian has established that, as early as March this year in his state of the province address, Free State Premier Ace Magashule began punting the need to spend public money on the centenary celebrations.

In his speech Magashule declared that the province—as the birthplace of the oldest liberation movement on the continent—was “proud and privileged” to have been chosen to host the main functions in January, as well as the national ANC conference in December next year.

“We are pleased to announce that one of these legacy projects will be a R30-million investment in the first phase of the major renovation of the Seisa Ramabodu Stadium in Rocklands, Mangaung,” he said.

“The stadium will be transformed into a multipurpose facility with proper hospitality and conference facilities, a gymnasium, offices and security features. When the centenary celebrations conclude we must have achieved a visible and concrete legacy that appropriately signifies the momentous symbolism of 1912.”

Magashule’s spokesperson William Bulwane said he did not know how much money would be spent on renovations and improvements to the Seisa Ramabodu Stadium, and could not confirm a Beeld report last weekend that the amount allocated for this work by the province had risen to R200-million. “They haven’t even started on the renovations and it hasn’t yet gone out to tender. It won’t make it for January. But the provincial executive council has agreed that upgrades to the stadium must take place,” he said.

In his budget speech, also in March, Free State finance minister Seiso Joel Mohai said the provincial sports, arts, culture and recreation department would receive R479-million in 2011 - 2012. A cumulative additional allocation to the department amounted to R228-million, which would cater for a list of priorities, including the centenary legacy projects. Mohai did not specify how much of the amount would be spent on the centenary.

But Dan Kgothule, the Free State’s sports, arts, culture and recreation minister, was more specific, describing in his speech in April how a “national liberation heritage route” was being built in the area.

“As mentioned by the honourable premier in his state of the province address we will, as a province, embark on centenary legacy projects for which an amount of R100-million has been budgeted,” he said.

About 120 000 people are expected to attend the ANC’s main birthday celebration from January 6 to 8 in Waaihoek, Mangaung. Khoza said all opposition leaders would also be invited to the celebrations.

But on Wednesday this week Roy Jankielsohn, leader of the Democratic Alliance in the Free State, wrote a letter to public protector Thuli Madonsela asking her to investigate and rule on whether provincial government resources allocated to the centenary celebrations constituted an abuse of state resources for party-political purposes.

Mbete recently revealed that the ANC would be spending R100-million of its own money on the event. Since then it has been alleged that R400-million of government money would be used to upgrade buildings, accommodation and a stadium for the centenary, but with the cost of security for heads of state the price tag has grown considerably.

The ruling party’s argument is that the public will benefit from the upgrades to roads, infrastructure and heritage sites, but opposition party members are still trying to find out exactly what the national government, as well as the provincial governments and municipalities around the country are spending on the celebrations.

‘Year-long affair’
The centenary celebrations will be a year-long affair, with events staged in different provinces. But with less than two months until the main celebrations in Waaihoek, there appears to be uncertainty about what is being done and who is paying for it.

About R150-million was paid to upgrade the Philip Saunders Resort outside Mangaung for the Soccer World Cup. The resort will now serve as the headquarters for the celebration.

Khoza said he did not know whether further money would be spent on the resort, which consists of chalets and large grounds. However, Jankielsohn said the government resort had become a “white elephant” after millions were spent on it for the World Cup. There was no response from the resort to numerous calls from the M&G.

Jankielsohn said he believed it was “highly irregular” for a political party to tap into national, provincial and municipal budgets to pay for its own celebrations. He said he was aware that R15-million had been budgeted for the premier’s house renovations under the provincial budget.

“It was confirmed there was to be an upgrading. I sat in that meeting earlier this year,” he said. “But there was no mention made of it being for the centenary celebrations.”

Bulwane confirmed the premier’s house was being renovated by the public works department, but stressed it had nothing to do with the ANC centenary celebrations.

Khoza said he was unaware that R15-million would be spent on upgrading Magashule’s house.

Although it has been alleged that millions would be spent to revamp Winnie Madikizela-Mandela’s house in Brandfort and that of Thomas Mapikela, a founder member of the ANC, Khoza said the intention was to spend money upgrading historical sites, but this would still depend on whether the National Heritage Council approved the application to turn the buildings into heritage sites.

A historian told the M&G that the Madikizela-Mandela house was sold to the Free State provincial government earlier this year in the hopes of turning it into a museum. This was confirmed by Bulwane, who said he did not know what price had been paid for the historic home.

Khoza initially said that the ANC had purchased and would be paying for the restoration of the Wesleyan School Church in Waaihoek, but he did a further check and confirmed that the M&G had been correct when it informed him that the Free State government had purchased it and was paying for its renovation. Khoza said the ANC was instead trying to purchase land near to the school church to use for a heritage resource centre.

Khoza denied claims by the DA that the ANC had asked parastatals, including Transnet, for funding. “Entities like South African Airways were asked whether they could schedule more aeroplanes and Transnet was asked if it could have special trains allocated. Transnet was not asked for donations.”

Two DA councillors from the Manguang Metro Municipality said they were trying to find out who had paid for posters advertising the centenary, which were now being seen in the area.

DA councillor Tseko Mpakathi said opposition parties had supported projects that would benefit the region, such as Operation Hlasela, which was launched to improve and fast-track service delivery but was now under investigation by the public protector.

Although the ANC had initially attempted to persuade the municipality to allocate funds to the celebrations, this had led to heated discussions and the matter had not been raised again, he said.

R5m-plus for Ngema musical
ANC national spokesperson Keith Khoza has said the ANC will pay for a lavish musical staged by controversial playwright Mbongeni Ngema to mark the party’s year-long centenary celebrations.

But Ngema’s publicist, Otto Moloto, said his team was still trying to raise funds from private companies for the musical, which he estimated would cost R5-million or more.

Ngema created Sarafina!, which later became a movie starring Whoopi Goldberg and the late Miriam Makeba. But its sequel, a state-funded play about HIV/Aids called Sarafina 2, was scrapped after it was revealed that it would cost R14.2-million to produce.

Although Moloto confirmed that Ngema would create a production for the main celebrations in Mangaung, he said it would not be the finished product. The latter would premiere in Emalahleni in October to celebrate the life of ANC president Oliver Tambo.

Ngema’s musical, titled Number 43, is named after an ANC safe house in Swaziland in which exiled fighters took refuge over the years. It will focus on the life of Rebecca Makgomo Masilela, popularly known as uMagogo—43 was the number of her home in Trelawney Park in Manzini.

Public money pays for run-down site
The Free State government was tight lipped this week about what it paid for the Wesleyan School Church in Waaihoek, Bloemfontein, the venue of the ANC’s founding conference in 1912, saying it had agreed that the purchase price would remain confidential.

However, a deeds search showed that it coughed up a whopping R10-million in July for the iconic but dilapidated structure, which had been used as a panelbeating shop by its previous owner, Kevin Jacobs. The papers also reveal the Jacobs family paid R280 000 for it in 2003.

Free State premier Ace Magashule’s spokesperson, William Bulwane, said a confidentiality clause had been signed with Jacobs. The Free State’s purchase of the former Methodist church was justified as it had great historical significance for South Africa, he said. “A country without heritage is a country that will perish.”

When the M&G last wrote about the historical building in Fort Street in Waaihoek, Jacobs said he would not let the building go unless he received his asking price of R15-million. At the time, the provincial government said an independent property evaluator had valued it at R3.4-million.

This week, Jacobs’s wife, Suraya, who signed the official deed of transfer on behalf of the Tasneem Property Trust which sold the church to the government, said her husband was busy and could not talk, as he was driving a tractor at his farm. Jacobs told the M&G that he had been paid “R40-million by some rich ANC guy” and had a new farm, but later admitted he was joking, before ringing off.

The church is apparently in the process of being declared a national heritage site, according to local historians. The provincial government has advertised for a contractor to carry out the renovations.

It has been reported that it will cost the Free State government R35-million to renovate the church, a figure that could not be confirmed.

The church was erected in the early 1800s in the Waaihoek township, near the Bloemfontein central business district.

Only the church and four other structures remain of the former township.

Chitja Twala, the chairperson of the Free State Provincial Resources Agency, said the church was an important purchase for the country. “It is a historical building for the ANC and it is significant for South Africa because it is part and parcel of the heritage and history of the country.

The fact that it is associated with the ANC does not divorce it from the history of the entire country,” said Twala.

“Bloemfontein is also where the National Party was formed in 1914, two years after the formation of the ANC.

“It is also the foundation place of Cope in 2008. These historic buildings are very important to the heritage and history of the country.”

Follow the Mail & Guardian‘s coverage of the ANC’s 100th anniversary.


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