Branding the province's adverts in party hues has raised questions about the use of public funds, and Thuli Madonsela is investigating them.
The public protector has decided to conduct a preliminary investigation into advertising billboards put up by the Gauteng province in ANC colours.
The campaign, worth millions of rands, features billboards, street-pole adverts and building wraps trumpeting the work of various Gauteng departments. The adverts, in the ANC colours of green and gold with black writing, started appearing across Johannesburg in October.
The final decision will be made by the end of the month "on whether the public protector will investigate the case", spokesperson Oupa Segalwa said this week. It follows a complaint by the Democratic Alliance (DA) in Gauteng in November.
The public protector's initial investigation will include approaching the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) to ascertain whether or not it is the appropriate body to investigate a matter of this nature, Segalwa said.
If an investigation into the advertising campaign does take place, a number of questions will have to be answered:
- Was public money used to fund a government campaign that opposition parties maintain was masquerading as an ANC campaign ahead of the 2014 election?
- Were funds that were diverted from other provincial departments in October used to fund the campaign? At the time, an undisclosed amount of funding was reallocated to the province's public relations and communications "because they didn't have money". This decision was made at an internal meeting in October, according to a source within the premier's office.
- Or was money from the R37-million that was allocated to Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane's office late last year "for preparations towards 20 years of our democratic system" used for the campaign? This amount was part of a budget adjustment of R3-billion announced by the Gauteng government in November specifically to "provide effective public services to the people".
- Or was money from both these sources used to fund the advertising campaign?
Instead of using the Gauteng government's signature colour palette of blue, gold and grey, the adverts, some as large as 10 storeys high, are boldly branded in the ANC's colours.
"The colours that are used for all our campaigns, including this, are drawn from our corporate identity colour palettes," the chief director of public relations within the premier's office, Janine Julies, said in a written response to questions from the Mail & Guardian.
She listed the province's usual colours of "gold", "aqua blue pantone" and "grey" as its primary colours, along with secondary colours of yellow, green, red, brown, grey and black.
But the source in the premier's office said there were no additional corporate colours. "It's always been blue and grey and gold."
A document on corporate identity on the province's website notes that blue "should be used as the primary colour when designing communications materials".
In the meantime, the green, gold and black campaign may have boosted Mokonyane's profile with the ANC's national leadership. Party secretary general Gwede Mantashe said in a July 2012 report to ANC national executive committee (NEC) members and government leaders that the 2013-2014 budget would be an "elections budget".
Mokonyane needs all the help she can get, because her position as Gauteng premier is tenuous. As a staunch supporter of President Jacob Zuma, she is isolated by a largely anti-Zuma provincial ANC leadership led by chairperson Paul Mashatile; something of a cold war exists between the two. And she is reported to be too low down on the province's list of preferred leaders to return as premier next year.
The 51 advertising billboards were put up at a cost of over R2-million a month of public money, according to an article in Beeld in November. Continental Outdoor Media, which hires out the advertising space, told the newspaper that it costs between R40 000 and R50 000 a month per board, which works out to about R2.3-million a month excluding the printing costs of about R10 000 a plate.
The province declined to give budgetary information to Beeld or the M&G, but the source within the premier's office also put it at more than R2-million, if not far more.
The province's departments of health, infrastructure and community safety, as well as human settlements and housing, all transformed their buildings in the Johannesburg central business district into billboards, most celebrating their respective achievements.
Gauteng province ads sporting the ANC's signature green and gold. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)
A series of street-pole advertisements dots the M1, and there are billboards on major roads, with one just before Corlett Drive on the M1 North declaring that "1.1-million learners receive a meal in our schools", attributed to the province's education department.
The tone of the campaign falls squarely within the ruling ANC's 2014 election campaigning theme, appearing since late last year under the tag line: "We have a good story to tell."
The ANC insisted that the Gauteng campaign was well within its rights to use the colours in question. "The bottom line is this is an ANC government," party NEC member Lindiwe Zulu told the M&G in Nelspruit ahead of the party's manifesto launch. "We are in charge [and] we are responsible at the end of the day."
She said the colours were not exactly the same: "The green is different from the ANC green, the yellow is not gold and there is no black."
The premier's office said the campaign had been produced in-house and was budgeted for in the 2013-2014 financial year. Though it said the campaign had begun in the latter part of 2011, previous posters were predominantly in the province's traditional blue, gold and grey palette.
What the experts say on the matter
Graphic designer: Grant Patrick
"The corporate identity standard has been ripped to pieces or simply ignored," said Grant Patrick, an experienced designer.
"Even though they may claim that they have used secondary colour palettes, they have not even used the primary set in most instances."
According to Patrick, the colour palette as produced by the province to justify the sudden use of green and yellow in its branding doesn't make sense. He added: "A good complementary colour for aqua blue would be more of an orange rather than green and yellow."
Previous posters by the province, in its usual colours of blue and gold, had done a better job of branding, Patrick said.
Branding expert: Gordon Cook
"Colours are critical in brand building," said Vega School of Brand Leadership head Gordon Cook. "The ANC has a very powerful dominant colour. You cannot confuse it with provincial – they're two difference brands."
He added that the new branding is disingenuous.
"It's like suddenly seeing the United States logo in the Democratic Party colours. You can't do that. That's what dictatorships do, [where] the government and party is just one thing and one brand."
Advertising Standards Authority
The head of legal and regulatory affairs at the ASA, Fred Makgatho, said that the organisation is reactive and needs to wait for a complaint to be lodged before acting on any particular matter.
He noted that an important consideration in such a matter is "to determine whose commercial interests are being served". Section 4 of the advertising code prohibits advertising that "is likely to mislead the consumer".
Independent Electoral Commission
The electoral code of conduct "becomes effective once the election date is proclaimed by the president, which also marks the official start of the election period", the IEC said in response to questions.
State and party are 'not the same'
Political analyst Professor Tinyiko Maluleke said the Gauteng campaign is problematic because "they seem to confuse the government with the party".
He said it could be even worse if the impression is created that the government is paying for the party, as the Democratic Alliance seems to believe.
The DA's Mike Moriarty alleged that the public purse is being used for party political propaganda. The party's spokesperson, Mmusi Maimane, called it "another subversive form of state capture" and likened it to the ANC handing out food parcels paid for by the government close to election times.
But the ANC doesn't see it like that. The party's deputy president, Cyril Ramaphosa, visited a remote area close to the Swaziland border last week to deliver a wheelchair that was donated by a party member. It was part of the party's election campaign in Mpumalanga ahead of its manifesto launch over the weekend.
He made a surprise announcement that the disabled recipient's house would be made wheelchair friendly – by the government – to loud cheers.
Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor was with him and dismissed questions about blurred lines between party and state.
"Members of provincial government are here," she said, and besides: "The party is in government."