So who did pay for the Aids play then?

Politics The ANC’s united front over Sarafina II begins to crack

Jacquie Golding-Duffy and Justin Pearce

The scandal over the Sarafina II Aids play is threatening to escalate yet further with indications that the production may not have been financed by the European Union, but by the Ministry of Health.

The development comes amid signs that the united front presented by the African National Congress over the Sarafina II affair is beginning to crack, with members starting to question, albeit cautiously, Minister Nkosazana Zuma’s handlng of the issue.

The question as to who put up the R14,7-million to stage the production has major implications, because if South African taxpayers’ money was used, the ministry has blatantly flouted state tendering procedures.

It would raise further questions as to why Zuma attempted to attribute funding to the EU, which has easier tendering controls than the government.

The EU maintained its insistence this week that it knew nothing about the project and did not fund it. It pointed out that the play did not feature in its contract for funding of its South African HIV/Aids programme. The EU said it had received no prior request for changes in budget allocations.

But the Health Department sat tight, saying it had “misunderstood” the original 1994 HIV/Aids contract with the EU, and blaming it on a breakdown in communications. The director of the Aids committee in the department, Quarrisha Abdool Karim, told the M&G that the money had come directly from EU headquarters in Brussels.

“The EU would never hand out money without seeing a detailed plan first,” said an NGO source. “I don’t believe there was a plan.”

In the first indication that ANC solidarity over the scandal is cracking, the Women’s League this week sent a memorandum to President Nelson Mandela — in his capacity as ANC leader — expressing concern over the Health Ministry’s use of the money.

Women’s League deputy president Thandi Modise confirmed that the funding had been raised at their summit meeting last weekend and it reflected township sentiment.

The league was worried that the play was aimed only at young people, and that the sum of R14-million was excessive. Participants in the meeting were also concerned about community drama groups which are performing educational plays without the benefit of state funding. Modise emphasised that the women wished to raise their concerns without being seen as a divisive force within the ANC.

Similarly guarded criticism is beginning to emerge from within the ANC’s parliamentary caucus, despite the fact that ANC members of the Standing Committee on Health rallied behind the minister last week. Some MPs believe Zuma was mistaken in allocating the money, but her previous excellent track record in the Cabinet made it inappropriate for them to support the motion originally tabled by the Democratic Party which called for her dismissal.

The matter has been referred to the Public Protector, whose job it is to investigate allegations of government mismanagement which could have a bearing on the public interest. On Wednesday, the Health Department issued a statement welcoming the Public Protector’s investigation, and promising the full co-operation of the department and the ministry.

Foreign donor organisations and embassies are closely following the controversy over Sarafina II, because of its potential significance for future funding. The German embassy’s development division confirmed its ambassador had requested “more information”. The embassy said it did not foresee the same problems within its own department: “We have established monitoring sytems to ensure money is specifically used for projects that it was set aside for.”

The British development division said it had no concerns and forsaw no repercussions, but was awaiting a report from the EU. It said its own appraisal system was “robust”, adding that its development division always agreed on the dispersal of funds beforehand.

A spokesman for the United States embassy, Bruce Wharton, said there were no plans by his government to redirect funding, but they were following the controversy.

The Swedes said they were monitoring developments “very closely” to see “how it’s resolved and what mechanisms will be put in place to prevent a recurrence.”

The United Nations Development Programme said it eagerly awaited the steps government and the EU would take to deal with the matter

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