Election season brings the conflation of party and state

Election season is upon us and so is the probability that political parties in government may use tax-payers’ money to boost their election campaigns. Based on our history, this period will probably be marked by the misuse and abuse of state resources. Allegations of this have been countless.

In 2014, Jacob Zuma, then the president, spoke at an ANC rally in Parys, Free State. At the rally, the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) handed out blankets and parcels of toiletries to older people. ANC spokesperson Khusela Sangoni said the party was not aware that Sassa would be there. But then Free State Sassa spokesperson Bandile Maqetuka said they received a request from the social development MEC to provide blankets on behalf of Zuma.

During the same campaign season, the Gauteng provincial government erected 51 billboards at the cost of more than R2-million to document its successes. The problem is that they were in the ANC colours of green and gold with black writing, making it difficult to distinguish between the ANC party and the state.

In 2013, provincial governments printed yellow T-shirts with Zuma’s face and the provincial government coat of arms. The T-shirts were part of the provincial government’s 20 years of democracy celebration.

But this conflation of party and state during election campaigning undermines our electoral integrity. It creates an uneven playing field where the incumbent political party can use state resources to further its election campaign. Using taxpayers’ money to further party interests is illegal.

How do we deal with this?

Two public protector reports provide some guidance on this. The first was as a result of a 2011 ANC campaign and Free State government programme that were indistinguishable. The government programme was called Operation Hlasela and the marketing of this programme incorporated text that read “vote ANC” and “Hlasela”.

The report was published in 2016. The public protector found that the conduct was inconsistent with schedule 2 of the Electoral Act and section 136, together with section 195, of the Constitution. The findings were that the ANC had benefited from free publicity and that this resulted in an unfair electoral advantage.

The second report related to Julius Malema distributing food parcels provided by Sassa at an ANC Youth League event in 2009. Malema was the ANC Youth League president at the time. The public protector found that section 195 of the Constitution had been violated as it requires services to be provided impartially.

Recommendations were made in respect of both reports for a policy to be developed and circulated to all government institutions.

Despite these recommendations, we are likely to see more of this in the coming months. The ANC and the Democratic Alliance are good at showcasing the work of their ministers, MECs and mayors on their party social media accounts. An example of this is the pictures on the DA’s Twitter account of Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba handing out title deeds. You would have thought the houses were provided by the DA.

The problem with following the formal route in reporting these activities is that the response takes several years to materialise. Both public protector reports came out in 2016 but these events took place in 2009 and 2011 respectively.

Also, the issue should not be entirely addressed through our electoral system. It must be addressed by those in the government’s administration. We need civil servants who are fully aware of the illegality of the conflation of party and state, the need for tighter institutional controls and hefty consequences for political parties and government officials who override this distinction.

Farai Savanhu is an electoral systems researcher at the nonprofit My Vote Counts

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