Cape Town - DA leader Helen Zille announced on Monday that she has pulled out of a New Age business breakfast after weekend reports said the breakfasts were sponsored by cash-strapped state-owned enterprises, such as Eskom, using public money.
The breakfast was scheduled for January 31 at Montecasino in Joburg and “the changing political structure in the country and the DA’s outlook on the upcoming elections in 2014” were to be discussed.
On Sunday, City Press reported that Transnet had spent R17.5 million on 18 breakfasts, while Eskom had paid R7.2m for six breakfasts. It was also reported that the SABC did not charge the New Age newspaper a cent to broadcast their breakfasts live on SABC2.
“Now that it has come to light that the breakfasts are funded by public money via state-owned enterprises to the tune of millions of rand, the DA cannot continue to participate,” Zille said on Monday.
She has written to Moegsien Williams, editor of the New Age, to inform him of her decision.In response, Williams said: “It flies in the face of her often harsh criticism of the SABC for not affording leaders of the opposition a fair opportunity on the airwaves.
Williams said Zille’s statement on Monday was disingenuous.
“Zille participated in a Business Briefing on February 2, 2012, in Cape Town and thanked Telkom for its sponsorship in her introductory remarks.”
Zille said that she and other DA colleagues had previously spoken at New Age breakfasts assuming the events were funded by the newspaper and by business people who purchased tickets to attend.
Since 2011 the Gupta family, who own the New Age newspaper and are close allies of President Jacob Zuma, have hosted an array of speakers at the breakfasts, including Zuma, Justice Minister Jeff Radebe and Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba.
“It is not acceptable or defensible for public money to be used to bankroll a privately owned newspaper, and indirectly the coffers of the ANC,” she said. “This is another example of how ANC cadres in business and ANC cadres in government work together to funnel money to the ANC in a mutually beneficial but essentially corrupt relationship.”
The multimillion-rand sponsorships were revealed by Gigaba in response to a parliamentary question by DA MP Kenneth Mubu.
It was previously reported that Telkom sponsored 12 breakfasts to the tune of R12 million in the 2012/13 financial year, according to City Press.
In a front page editorial on Monday, the New Age’s chief executive Nazeem Howa said weekend reports were aimed at “silencing the New Age”.
“The latest attack on us in City Press on Monday comes at a time when we are starting to enjoy the fruits of our first two years of publishing… Our intentions are clear and public – we will be a major publishing force and we will challenge the incumbents in their negative approach to reporting on our new democracy,” Howa said.