Three months ahead of what promises to be fiercely contested municipal elections, public protector Thuli Madonsela on Thursday put government officials on notice. “When a minister is in an event as a minister, not as a party representative, he or she can not endorse a particular political party,” Madonsela said. “And that applies to every public functionary.”
Madonsela released two reports in which she found conflation between party and state to the benefit of the ANC. In one case, the Free State provincial government used state resources to advertise the ANC head of elections in 2011. In the other Julius Malema, then still leader of the ANC Youth League, was found to have distributed state food parcels at a party event.
She promised further reports on the conflation of party and state before the end of May, including one whose publication was delayed because those involved were still contesting facts.
“You can’t use a public communications platform such as your [government] website or your newsletter to advertise or promote a political party initiative,” Madonsela said.
Various national departments and provincial governments have been accused of promoting the ANC using state funds and resources, most notably through the tactical distribution of food parcels and ambiguous advertising campaigns.
In 2014, for instance, the Gauteng government launched a large advertising campaign ahead of the national and provincial elections. The campaign featured colours remarkably similar to the green and gold of the ANC, with relatively small provincial logos (which are heavy on blue, similar to those of the Democratic Alliance).
In 2013 Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini distributed food parcels in Tlokwe shortly before crucial by-elections in the area, where the ANC faced a potential loss to the DA.
The Free State government of Premier Ace Magashule, Madonsela wrote in a report titled State and Party Colours, “did provide [a] free advertisement for the ANC which was not provided to other parties and independent candidates and, accordingly, undermined equal access to advertising and other communications channels, thus compromising fair play between the ANC and other parties”.
Madonsela said the Free State’s behaviour had been “inconsistent” with the Electoral Act and sections of the Constitution dealing with executive ethics and civil servants.
For Economic Freedom Fighters leader Malema, the second report Madonsela released on Thursday was doubly awkward, both harking back to his fierce support of the ANC before he was expelled and finding he had personally had a hand in campaigning on the back of state resources.
In late 2009 the ANC Youth League organised rallies near Cape Town, where Malema magnanimously handed over food parcels against a backdrop consisting of branding for both the league and the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa), the distributor of social grants.
The food parcels, Madonsela found, had been purchased by Sassa. The entire event, she said, amounted to one in which Sassa “abetted the [ANC Youth League] to achieve its party-political objective, thus creating a conflict of interest and favouritism”.
Malema has consistently railed against the misuse of state resources for party ends as leader of the EFF — while also promising to protect Madonsela and her findings from any attack.“We don’t buy people with food parcels, we don’t buy people with T-shirts, we don’t buy people with jobs; we win people through a message of hope,” Malema told a rally last week.
But the report is far more damaging to Environment Minister Edna Molewa, who was the minister of social development at the time, and so in ultimate control of Sassa. Molewa, Madonsela found, had made herself guilty of maladministration.
“Minister Molewa’s request to have food parcels arranged for her for distribution during an event that was organised by the … youth league of her political party, the ANC, was in violation” of the section of the Constitution that demands Cabinet members avoid conflicts of interest, Madonsela said.
At the time of the incident, Sassa insisted that the food parcels had been donated to Molewa by private companies, but she had not been present to hand them out herself.
In both instances, Madonsela’s remedial action — given new teeth thanks to the Constitutional Court ruling on the Nkandla saga — was limited to demanding policies to prevent future conflation of state and party.
Two Hlaselas equal one giant hassle
Sometime in 2009, Free State Premier Ace Magashule would later say, his administration came up with “Operation Hlasela”, sometimes described as a broad push for better service delivery and sometimes as being quite specific to housing delivery. It was, the ANC in the province held, a government programme based on the ANC’s election manifesto.
But there was another “Operation Hlasela”, using the exact same name and logo. This supposedly separate private initiative endorsed Magashule and President Jacob Zuma, and actively campaigned for the ANC in the 2011 local government elections.
The private Hlasela has since been renamed as “Friends of the Free State”, but not before the damage was done — as a programme that was promoted via state platforms at taxpayers’ expense, but campaigned for a party.
Public protector Thuli Madonsela conceded Magashule’s point that it is “inevitable that progress made by the government of the day regarding service delivery will be attributable to the governing political party”, but rejected as “rather naive” his contention that the conflated Hlaselas had not benefited the ANC.
A civil society initiative with the same name as a government project was not necessarily “too much of a problem”, Madonsela said on Thursday. “The only problem was the involvement of a political party, and the very clear endorsement of the political party.” – Phillip de Wet