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Western Cape food for votes case in court

Glynnis Underhill

The DA has accused Western Cape ANC chair Marius Fransman and Sassa CEO Virginia Petersen of handing out food parcels while campaigning for the ANC.

Deputy minister and ANC Western Cape chairperson Marius Fransman. (David Harrison, M&G)

Deputy minister and ANC Western Cape chairperson Marius Fransman is among those who have been taken to court by the Democratic Alliance (DA), which accuses them of canvassing for votes with food parcels paid for the state.

The case involves a ministerial outreach event held in the poor area of Atlantis in the Western Cape on April 16, where Fransman was billed as a speaker on the programme in his official capacity as deputy minister of international relations and co-operation.

Fransman has disputed the urgency of the application, and insists the DA is wrong to suggest he attended the meeting as an ANC representative.

Instead Fransman maintained he had been invited because the Minister of Social Development Bathabili Dlamini and her deputy could not personally attend the meeting.

The court case kicked off in the high court in Cape Town on Wednesday and arguments were heard by Judge Siraj Desai, who will make a decision by Friday on whether Fransman and the chief executive officer of the South African Social Security Agency Virginia Petersen should be called to give oral evidence. 

If the judge decides they need not be called to give evidence, then it is expected he will then make a ruling on the case.

Observation
An affidavit handed in to court by Tarryn-Lee Bell, an officer in the DA-run provincial social development department, explained how she had been asked to observe a meeting at the Dollies Centre in Atlantis.

“The Western Cape department of social development has to be aware of any developments regarding the provision of social security benefits to people in the Western Cape, as it continuously receives complaints from people regarding the conduct of the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) and social grants generally,” said Bell.

The meeting had started four hours late, she stated in her affidavit.

There were a number of food parcels ready to be handed over and stacked around the platfom, Bell outlined, and the programme had billed Petersen and Fransman as speakers.

Bell said she had made a recording of Fransman’s speech but Desai questioned in court why the full speech was not made available.

The court was referred to the explanation in Bell’s affidavit that her cellphone battery had died during Fransman’s speech. 

 “To me, it was apparent that Mr Fransman was campaigning for the ANC,” stated Bell. “The remainder of his speech could not be recorded because the battery of the cell phone on which his speech was recorded, went flat.”

Discussion
During the court appearances of the legal representatives for the parties, the judge was told there were around 2 000 people present at the meeting and there was discussion around Petersen’s contention that only eight people were given the social relief of distress grants (SRDs).

In the DA’s heads of argument, the party outlined how it was seeking an order of a fine of R200 000 against both Petersen and Fransman, and an order prohibiting them from entering any voting district for the purpose of, or allowing, the canvassing of ANC votes through the distribution of the social relief grants.

At the event in Atlantis in April, these grants were distributed at the end of the programme to various recipients after Fransman made his speech, which the DA claimed was “ostensibly in his capacity as the deputy minister of international relations and co-operation”.

“The only factual issue to be determined by the court is whether the fourth respondent [Fransman], in the extract of the recorded speech which is before the court, can be said to be “campaigning for the ANC”, the DA contends. 

James Selfe, a DA member of Parliament and the party’s federal executive chairperson, stated in papers before court that Petersen alleged that eight people were given the social relief of distress grants, on the basis of “undue hardship”. 

The applications for these grants were furnished to the DA’s legal representatives. “It turned out that none of the awards was legally made,” alleged Selfe.

In his affidavit, Fransman said he had not attended the meeting in his capacity as the chairperson of the Western Cape ANC, and had not held a mandate from the ANC to attend or deliver a speech on its behalf at this meeting.

“Neither the Western Cape ANC, nor I as its chairperson, contributed any food parcels and/or fruit baskets and/or school uniforms to the said meeting and its organisers for distribution among the poor people in Atlantis, and for those people attending the said meeting,” he stated.

Poverty alleviation
Fransman claimed the distribution of the food parcels was done by the government in the context of poverty alleviation.

“In the circumstances for the applicant to suggest and allege that I, in my capacity as chairperson of the Western Cape ANC, had used and or abused state resources, ostensibly in the form of these food parcels, fruit baskets and school uniforms, or have participated therein, is not only disingenuous, but is devoid of any truth, and in the circumstances disputed,” said Fransman.

Petersen also denied the allegations, which she described as serious in nature as they were alleged electoral offences.

The DA had not produced any evidence to show that she or Sassa provided or offered an “inducement or reward” to attend the programme, or to vote for the ANC or any other party, she said.

Petersen said she would have expected the DA to produce evidence of any person who attended the programme or was invited there to provide such evidence to substantiate its claim.

In her answering affidavit, Peterson confirmed the event had fallen under the Project Mikondzo initiative, and was implemented in the area as the Atlantis Ministerial Outreach Programme. 

“I deny in the strongest of terms, that I as Sassa’s chief executive officer, was involved in electioneering, or that my conduct amounted to electioneering,” said Petersen.

Footprint
In his replying affidavit to Petersen, Selfe said it was significant that Petersen accepted that Project Mikondzo is a service delivery improvement initiative at municipal and local level, which aims to increase the footprint of the social development department and its entities at local level.

“Atlantis falls within the jurisdiction of the City of Cape Town. Why was there no official representative of the City of Cape Town? Why did two ANC PR (proportional representative) councillors take part in these proceedings?” Selfe asked. “If the aim was to “engage with municipalities” as claimed by Ms Petersen, it makes absolutely no sense to invite two PR councillors of a minority party to deal with the minister and to present the Atlantis Mikondzo report.”

If Fransman had not been initially scheduled to speak, then why did his name appear on the programme, Selfe questioned in his affidavit.

Selfe claimed that the recipients had to “endure Mr Fransman’s campaigning for the ANC”. 

“Apart from being unlawful, the parading of the poor at such events is completely undignified. If Sassa genuinely had the interests of the poor in mind, the social relief of distress grants would have been distributed in private during the site visits,” Selfe maintained in his affidavit.

“If the aim is not political gain, there is no need to make a spectacle of the handing over of such parcels to the poor.”


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