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There seems to be substantial grounds for suspicions among opposition politicians that state money was spent on a by-election campaign in the Western Cape last September.
Was it a coincidence, as a ministerial adviser would have us believe, that R184 000 was spent on a Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries event in the mountain village of Wupperthal just four days before voting?
Coincidences are rare in politics, especially when 1 000 T-shirts resembling ANC colours are handed out.
Agriculture Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson has described the meeting, including catering and the rental of a public address system, as “public participation and outreach”. For a by-election, says DA leader, Helen Zille.
Appropriately, the complaint has gone to Public Protector Thuli Madonsela for investigation. Will she accept the proffered coincidence?
If DA qualms are correct, this is a pronounced case of abuse of state funds for party political ends. But it happens regularly, in smaller, unseen ways where people in office employ the resources of their office for the benefit of their parties.
Telephone calls are made, mail is sent, photocopies are done, aides accompany their bosses or are dispatched on errands, escorts and bodyguards turn out – all at taxpayers’ expense. Then there is the office time that politicians might use on party matters, to compose political speeches, or see visitors unrelated to their posts.
This conflation of post and party is by no means unique to South Africa. Officials universally slip into party political business at their bosses’ behest.
It is going to be a rigorous office holder, one who has the time, inclination and energy to maintain a wall between official duties and party activity, who is going to be without blame on this issue.
Allegedly sponsoring a political rally on official funds, though, requires special attention.