Former public protector, Thuli Madonsela. File picture: Masi Losi

The ruling party’s denials expose a disturbing abuse in funding electioneering campaigns, writes Lebogang Seale.

The ANC recently renewed its offensive towards Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, criticising her for her assertion that cabinet ministers shouldn’t act as representatives of a political party while on official government programmes.

Its riposte followed hard on the heels of her report condemning it for failing to separate between party and state with the distribution of food parcels to official government events.

Madonsela found that a private service delivery programme in the Free State, Operation Hlasela, endorsed the ANC’s 2011 election manifesto, and that its “skewed implications for electoral fair play cannot be reasonably denied”. She found the distribution of SA Social Security Agency food parcels worth R100 000 at an ANC Youth League event in Cape Town in 2009 constituted abuse of state resources.

One would have been forgiven for thinking Madonsela was stating the obvious here, but the ANC, it appears, is in a delusional space, blinded from seeing the dangers of conflating state and party.

The ANC’s denials shouldn’t be blithely dismissed, because they expose – and confirm – a disturbing trend in the body politic: the abuse of state power and taxpayers’ money to fund electioneering campaigns. There have been complaints aplenty at each election, how rural folk vote for the same party as they fear losing their social grants.

Take, for instance, the ANC’s decision to hand out RDP houses in Marikana during the week it held its 94th anniversary celebrations in January. When asked why President Jacob Zuma did not pitch for the handing-out ceremony, as initially stated, ANC spokesperson Zizi Kodwa said it was “a government programme” and referred queries to the Presidency.

However, the original statement, detailing Zuma’s attendance, was headlined: “ANC 104th Anniversary”.

The timing confirmed the growing tendency to use government projects to score political points.

In April last year, Western Cape Premier Helen Zille and Communications Minister Faith Muthambi squared off over the minister’s choice of the ANC’s election slogan “Together we move South Africa forward” as the theme for the national imbizo focus week in that province. “We cannot have government spending millions of rand on campaigns that push the slogans and branding of a political party,” Zille said.

Earlier in the same month, at the SA Local Government Association national assembly, Zuma used the same slogan.

ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe reacted angrily to Zille’s objection.

“We are not promoting the party, we are implementing the programme that we showed to the electorate.”

The irony in this defence was that this is the selfsame Mantashe who has often rebuked journalists for “conflating” issues around the state and the party, when confronted with questions about the party’s views about ailing state-owned entities.

Unperturbed, the ANC persists with the same argument in its criticism of Madonsela over the food parcels. “Cabinet members do not change their allegiance to their political parties nor claim to be non-partisan once they are appointed to cabinet. It is not inconceivable that in the execution of their tasks, they will refer to the successes and challenges of the ANC-led government they have been tasked to serve in as it is the ANC programme they are driving with its mandate derived from the people.”

Compare the ANC’s views to Midvaal mayor Bongani Baloyi’s, who, during a DA election campaign in Meyerton last month, warned councillors against confusing government events with party events.

“There is a council policy that says councillors must hold report-back meetings with the community once a month. No councillor should address the meeting in his political party regalia; there should be no political talk. It should be about what the municipality is doing and what the council decided.”

The ANC’s views suggest it has mastered the art of denying the obvious and defending the ridiculous. By denying that they are conflating state and party, the ANC is lying to itself, lying to its followers and lying to the public.

Fortunately, the ANC has come face to face with Madonsela, a public protector resilient enough not to be deterred by the type of abuse so often dished out to her whenever she releases adverse reports pertaining to state.

The party would do well to admit that the state, not the ANC, comes first as its cabinet ministers go about their government business.

But that’s difficult when no less than our president openly admits – as recently as October last year: “I always say to business people that if you invest in the ANC, you are wise. If you don’t invest in the ANC, your business is in danger.”

The Star