Deputy minister and ANC Western Cape chairperson Marius Fransman was hugged by supporters on the steps of the Cape Town high court on Friday after the Democratic Alliance (DA) lost the case it brought against him and other high-profile figures, who were accused of canvassing for votes with food parcels paid for by the state.
Judge Siraj Desai dismissed the DA’s application, and the party now has to pay the costs of Fransman’s legal team, as well as those of the South African Social Security Agency’s (Sassa) Virginia Petersen. Desai told the court his reasons for dismissing the application with costs would be given at a later stage.
The case brought by the DA involved 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.
“This case was a waste of our time, and it was ridiculous to say we were abusing resources. It was a ministerial function,” said Fransman, who was in a jubilant mood. “The DA is throwing accusations around left right and centre. This case just shows how desperate they are getting because they are going to lose the Western Cape.”
Many ANC supporters threw their arms around Fransman. Petersen told the Mail & Guardian by phone that she felt “vindicated”. “All I am saying is that as an official of government, I was performing my duty and acting on my mandate,” she said.
In his affidavit presented to court, Fransman had disputed the urgency of the application and insisted the DA was wrong to suggest he attended the meeting as an ANC representative. Instead he maintained he had been invited because Minister of Social Development Bathabili Dlamini and her deputy could not personally attend the meeting.
Among the court papers was an affidavit by Tarryn-Lee Bell, an officer in the DA-run provincial social development department, explaining 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.
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. “To me, it was apparent that Mr Fransman was campaigning for the ANC,” stated Bell.
During the court appearances of the legal representatives for the parties this week, 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.
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.
In her affidavit, 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.