Cape Town -

Officially billed by the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Department as an event in the run-up to President Jacob Zuma’s State of the Nation address on February 13, Sunday’s memorial lecture honouring the late struggle stalwart Johnny Issel resembled an ANC event.

Just about everyone among the 1 600 people present wore a yellow T-shirt featuring Zuma’s face, under the logo of the government’s food security programme “Fetsa Tlata”, or End Hunger.

The back of this T-shirt features the government coat of arms, and the words “We have a good story to tell” alongside “Together we have made South Africa a better place”.

A handful wore black T-shirts featuring the face of Issel, a founder of the United Democratic Front and member of uMkhonto we Sizwe, who died aged 64 in January 2011.

Songs in honour of Zuma were heard as groups arrived at the Swartklip Sports Complex in Mitchells Plain.

Security was provided by military veterans, who an official said were employed by the department for anti-poaching operations.

They also formed a guard of honour during proceedings, and at one stage several of them joined attendees in a spirited toyi-toyi in front of the stage.

Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries director-general Desmond Stevens denied that Sunday’s memorial lecture could be regarded as a party political event. “It is absolutely not an ANC event,” he said, adding the T-shirts in question bore “no ANC regalia.”

Stevens added the lecture was “a government event” to recognise Issel’s contribution and activism in farming and fishing communities.

With elections looming in around three months’ time, two complaints by opposition parties over the ANC allegedly blurring boundaries between party and state have been submitted to the Public Protector.

In September the DA complained that Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini distributed food parcels before a crucial by-election in Tlokwe, when the ANC sought to regain control of the municipality from the DA.

In January AgangSA laid a complaint after the Social Security Agency of South Africa (Sassa) reportedly funded 1 400 mattresses distributed to fire victims at Valhalla Park informal settlement.

The memorial lecture speeches on Sunday focused on gains made in South Africa over the past 20 years.

“We had a dream. Today we have an opportunity to make the dream come true… We have come a long way,” said Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson.

Her cabinet colleague and keynote speaker, Science and Technology Minister Derek Hanekom, also the ANC national executive committee convenor for the Western Cape, said:

“South Africa is a very different place from what it was 20 years ago and the lives of the majority of South Africans have improved, significantly, in many ways. While we are firmly on the journey towards full emancipation, we are acutely aware of the many challenges that remain,” said Hanekom.

“If Comrade Johnny (Issel) was still with us, he would have been constantly prodding us to do more, to do better and to never rest until the dream of a non-racial, non-sexist society is fully realised, and to be restless in our sleep for as long as (there) is still injustice, inequality and poverty.”

Political Bureau