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Cape Town - The war of words between DA leader Helen Zille and the New Age newspaper continued on Tuesday, with allegations flying from both sides.
Zille likened the affair to the Info Scandal of the mid-1970s which rocked the apartheid government and led to the resignation of president BJ Vorster in 1979, saying: “It is a way of using state funds to subsidise a newspaper. The last time that happened, a government fell.”
Meanwhile, the newspaper released a video clip in which Zille thanks Telkom for sponsoring a New Age business breakfast in Cape Town last year.
The public spat erupted after weekend reports revealed that state-owned enterprises, including Transnet and Eskom, had paid millions to sponsor business breakfasts organised by the newspaper, which hosted political bigwigs including President Jacob Zuma.
Zille was due to address a New Age breakfast briefing at the end of this month, but withdrew on Monday in the wake of the news reports, calling the sponsorships “dubious” and indefensible.
After announcing her withdrawal, Zille said she assumed the business breakfasts were funded by the newspaper and by business people who bought tickets to attend.
New Age editor Moegsien Williams hit back, accusing Zille of suffering from amnesia since she had thanked Telkom for sponsoring the New Age breakfast she addressed last February.
A clip of the event was posted on The New Age website on Tuesday.
New Age managing editor Gary Naidoo said the newspaper had no choice but to make the clip public after Zille’s “attack” on the newspaper.
“Certain things were said and we have the right to reply,” Naidoo said. “Now the public can decide.”
In the clip, Zille thanks New Age chairman Atul Gupta and Telkom for sponsoring the event at the Cape Town International Convention Centre on February 2.
The event was broadcast live on SABC 2.
“Mr Clyde Rossouw, representing Telkom, the sponsor of this breakfast today, thank you very much, sir, for enabling this to happen,” says Zille in the clip.
Zille said, however, thanking the sponsors was merely “the protocol at such events”.
“When I was asked to speak last year, my office prepared a protocol list for me, to acknowledge and thank various people. I have looked back in my files and seen Telkom was on that list as a sponsor. That did not raise alarm bells at the time, because I thought of a breakfast sponsorship as just that – the payment of part of the cost of the event,” she said.
“Unfortunately, I was not at the time aware of the extent of the sponsorship. If I knew then what I know now, I would never have agreed to do the first New Age briefing.
“Entirely new facts have come to light since I spoke at the breakfast last year. It has now become quite clear that the state-owned enterprise support for the New Age is no ordinary ‘sponsorship’,” she told Independent Newspapers.
She said according to her calculations, there were about 250 people at the breakfast briefing, who each paid R792.30 for their tickets.
Ticket sales would have raised about R198 000 and the CTICC charged R230 a head for the venue as well as the breakfast, resulting in a profit of about R140 000 after costs were deducted.
“Over and above this, the New Age also got a full hour free exposure on TV. At that time of the morning (looking at the basis of R12 000 per 30-second advert) that free promotion was worth R1.44 million,” she said. “So what was the R1m Telkom sponsorship used for? Not to pay for the breakfast, that’s for sure: the tickets more than paid for that. Not to buy airtime: the SABC paid for that.
“No, it was a way of using a state corporation (the SABC) to promote (free) a private business of a major benefactor of the ANC and Jacob Zuma. And it was a way of channelling an additional R1m of public money to the same company. And this happened repeatedly and regularly. “All in all R25m of public money was channelled to the New Age in this way.
“This is not a ‘sponsorship’. It is a way of using state funds to subsidise a newspaper. The last time that happened, a government fell,” she said, referring to the |Info Scandal of the 1970s that rocked the apartheid government and culminated in the resignation of president BJ Vorster.
“The breakfasts were clearly a way of channelling huge amounts of public money to a private company owned by a benefactor of President Zuma and the ANC. It is a good example of what President Zuma meant when he said businesses that donate to the ANC would see their fortunes multiply.”
But Williams slammed Zille’s accusation that the breakfasts were indirectly bankrolling the ANC – because of the close relationship between the New Age owners, the Gupta family, and Zuma – saying it was “far-fetched, defamatory and untruthful” to link the paper and state-owned enterprises to funding of the “coffers of the ANC”.
“Zille, in essence, accuses the CEOs of Telkom, Eskom, Transnet, BrandSA and Prasa of corruption. She owes them an apology for this scurrilous impugning of their integrity and honesty,” he said.
Cape Argus, Political Bureau