/ 29 December 2022

Fikile Mbalula intervenes after ANC Free State allegedly calls for departments to foot January 8 bill

Three ANC leaders who previously spoke to M&G said they expected Ramaphosa to announce replacements for Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula

In his first challenge as the new ANC secretary general, Fikile Mbalula read the riot act to the Free State leadership when it allegedly demanded that government departments pay for the party’s birthday celebrations. 

Mbalula raised his concern during a preparatory meeting on Wednesday afternoon, well-placed sources said. 

Correspondence, allegedly with the blessing of the ANC provincial leaders and apparently meant for the MECs of Free State government departments, ordered contributions for the party’s annual January 8 celebrations. 

According to the correspondence, the department of sport, arts, culture and recreation would pay for sound, stage, decorations, balloons and artists. The office of the premier would foot the bill for the ANC presidential gala dinner while the provincial department of cooperative governance was to pay for transport of 3 000 ANC supporters from the Lejweleputswa region. 

The correspondence also said the provincial department for roads, transport and police and public works should pay for the transport of 3 000 ANC members.  

The provincial department for small business development, tourism and environmental affairs would pay for 1 000 ANC members from the Xhariep region while the social development department was to pay for a cake, champagnes and 55 doves, which would be released at the end of ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa’s annual address. 

The education department was expected to pay for transport for ANC supporters from the Botshabelo and Thaba Nchu regions while the Mangaung metro municipality would be responsible for the remaining towns. The health department was to cover the cost for the party’s communication machinery and the agriculture department would cough up for fruit snack packs, water and juice. 

An insider said Mbalula called the correspondence “malicious” during the Wednesday meeting and added that no “educated department head” or council leader would be able to give such instructions. 

Mbalula told Mail & Guardian on Wednesday that he had asked for the origins of the correspondence. 

“We have made it clear that should there have been any attempt on the part of anybody to draw government resource power to that January 8 celebration, there will be consequences for that,” he said. 

“If there is any such correspondence directed to officials giving them instructions to use [public money] that would be illegal. [The] public purse cannot be used for an ANC rally and immediate action must be taken by whoever generated such a correspondence on behalf of the government and so on. We are very clear that we will take action should this happen in the name of the ANC.” 

Mbalula said the annual event would be funded by Luthuli House. He added that the province would be responsible for a share of the funding, but largely the expense would be paid by the national office. 

He said the national leaders would further discuss the correspondence, which was not written on a letterhead, making the job of investigating its origin difficult. 

“It is not clear whether it was maliciously generated to bring our rally into disrepute. From the side of the officials, including Mxolisi Dukwana [ANC interim provincial committee convener], that is denied and we have made clear we don’t want state resources [to be used to fund ANC activities],” he said. 

Mbalula said the preparatory team was also weighing its options on the venue for the celebrations after it emerged that the Mangaung metro could not issue a grading certificate for the Dr Molemela Stadium. 

In a letter to the ANC from the acting city manager, Tebogo Motlashuping, the municipality pointed to various shortfalls in the Dr Molemela Stadium that would prohibit the party from hosting its event there. 

The stadium could accommodate only 15 500 people, and that this number would be significantly reduced once a stage was erected. 

No running water, no working toilets, no electrical and fire safety certificate as well as the non-availability of VIP rooms were among some of the issues that rendered the stadium non-compliant. 

The municipality added that the northern part of the stadium “sank” after construction. 

“Noting all of the above and the financial position of the municipality, it will be difficult for the municipality to implement remedial action of correction within the short period of time. Further, this will prohibit the municipality [from issuing] a grading certificate for the event to take place,” Motlashuping wrote, suggesting that the ANC use the Free State rugby stadium as an alternative. 

Mbalula told the M&G that the ANC would inspect the stadium and then make a determination on Thursday after speaking to the municipality.  

“We are not married to the idea of a stadium. There are many open spaces in Mangaung that we can use for the rally. We wanted to go to the stadium because it is central and equally historic,” Mbalula said.