A furious Helen Zille has accused President Jacob Zuma of turning state-funded functions into party political rallies and sitting idly by while protesters booed her off the stage and disrupted the launch of the Saldanha Bay Industrial Development Zone on Thursday.
Zille was set to deliver the welcome address at the launch, before Zuma spoke, but supporters believed to be from the ANC prevented her from doing so.
Zille said she received a tip-off earlier in the week that the disruptions were planned and not spontaneous and she warned Zuma on Wednesday night. “I was told that the IDZ launch would be turned into an ANC rally and I called the president to inform him of this.
“I have discussed this kind of abuse with the president before.
I then urged him to take steps to deal with the threatened abuse of a meeting.”
Zuma had told her he had asked Minister Collins Chabane to contact her. However, she had not heard from him.
But the ANC refuted Zille’s claims, saying her “ranting shows she is nothing but an attention seeker”.
“We cannot help if the president is such a popular person on the West Coast. And that masses of people came to hear the president speak... We cannot help that it was an ANC government delivery that has taken place,” deputy International Relations Minister Marius Fransman said.
Fransman said Zille made a scathing attack after being booed, saying from the podium “the State is corrupt”. She had provoked anger as she shouted “this is an abuse of state power”.
Zille said there was nothing coincidental about the ANC’s disruption of the launch.
“It was clear yesterday that the ANC was planning to turn a state-funded event into a party political rally. They had organised vehicles to bus people in from other areas, and distributed ANC T-shirts.”
However, Fransman said the premier had pointed to the ANC T-shirts, saying “this is corruption”.
“The fact that Zille dared saying these things from the front, shows that she wanted to create an incident, and that is the hard reality,” he said.
Regarding Zille’s call to the president, Fransman said: “The real reason she went crying to the president was to complain that Marius Fransman was on the programme.”
Fransman, who was at the launch, said the fact that Zille even dared to insinuate that he, as deputy minister, should not be on the programme, “shows her stupidity”.
Zille said she planned to report the matter to the public protector for the “abuse of state funding by the ANC to hold party political rallies at taxpayers’ expense”.
“The ANC clearly has no respect for democracy, and has no sense of the separation between party and state.”
Diplomats and guests at the launch had been “absolutely appalled”.
“The IDZ has the potential to create thousands of jobs – but only if people invest. This kind of abuse, corruption and disruption only chases investors away,” Zille added.
Local pastor Elliot de Bruyn, who attended the launch, said while he wanted to hear Zille speak, he did not agree that the disruptions had been staged.
“ANC people were trying to calm the people to allow the premier to speak, but they could not get them to calm down. Only after the premier had left the venue, calm was restored. Helen Zille is the premier and we should respect her, but this was not orchestrated. I do not know why people are upset with the premier, but to blame this on the ANC is also not fair.”
ANC members in Saldanha, who did not want to be named, said there were ANC members in the crowd but they all claimed that those who were booing Zille were ratepayers, unhappy with the way the DA had been running their municipality and the province.
ANC spokesman, Keith Khoza, said: “We are proud to say we have not used taxpayers’ money for a party political event. Helen Zille should know better.
“She was not scheduled to address an ANC event. It was a state event. If there were protesters and she was disrupted, it does not make it an ANC event.”