Cape Town - The ANC has rejected a call for President Jacob Zuma to retract his statement that businesses which support the party will prosper, saying this was a cultural gesture of goodwill and did not mean such companies would win state contracts.
The party’s spokesman, Jackson Mthembu, also hit back at DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko, who made the call on Monday, saying she didn’t understand African cultural practices, including wishing prosperity to those who offered gifts.
Mthembu suggested that Mazibuko “get a life” after she said Zuma’s comments, made at an ANC gala dinner last week attended by captains of industry, implied that by backing the ANC businesses would reap financial rewards, “which can only be leveraged through state resources”.
Mazibuko called on Zuma to clarify whether his statement was government policy and to retract it if it was not.
Zuma was reported to have told business people attending the gala dinner in celebration of the party’s 101st birthday: “Everything you touch will multiply. I’ve always said that a wise business person will support the ANC, because supporting the ANC means you’re investing very well in your business”.
Mthembu said any person who understood African culture would know the saying “akwande lapho nithathe khona”, which loosely translated means “may the place where you got your gift (or riches) prosper”.
“What was said by the president doesn’t need a retraction. I never thought the DA would stoop this low. It’s in keeping with African culture to say ‘may you prosper’. I’m not sure whether Lindiwe is African,” said Mthembu. He said Zuma had never said that businesses would benefit from the government if they supported the ANC.
In an official statement issued later, Mthembu said: “The ANC supports the call made by President Zuma. It is a sad fact that Lindiwe Mazibuko is so naive when it comes to African traditions that she cannot relate to them.”
He said the reality was that if businesses wanted to prosper, they had to support the ANC, as their prosperity was dependent on the movement being at the helm of the government.
Mazibuko said in her statement earlier she would submit parliamentary questions to Zuma to “seek clarification as to whether his remarks that businesses which support the ANC will see their fortunes ‘multiply’ is in fact government policy; and if not, whether he will issue a formal retraction”.
She said the remarks had the potential to “severely compromise the principle of good governance”.
“With high levels of corruption already costing the economy billions of rand, hurting the poor and vulnerable the hardest, such a comment is deeply irresponsible. However, it comes as little surprise. This is further evidence of how President Zuma fundamentally confuses the role of the state and party, and how the government continues to misuse public money, which should be spent on the poor,” said Mazibuko.
She added that the ANC’s decision to block two private members’ bills proposed by the DA in Parliament demonstrated its lack of commitment to the fight against corruption.
The bills proposed by the DA included one to regulate the business interests of state employees, prohibiting them from doing business with the state, and another to regulate tenders to ensure that no business in which a political party had an interest could do business with the government.
Civil society anti-corruption body Corruption Watch said Zuma’s statement could be misinterpreted.
“I think it’s a very disturbing statement. It could be interpreted to mean that the ANC is a business-friendly organisation, and when you support it, you will get a business-friendly environment. Or it could be interpreted to mean that you will be rewarded with state contracts,” said Corruption Watch executive director David Lewis.