Predent Jacob Zuma, speaks to the elders of Parys during his campaign programme in the Free State. Picture: Itumeleng English

 Parys - President Jacob Zuma’s campaign in Parys, Free State, was on Saturday marred by a blankets-for-votes scandal involving a state agency.

The SA Social Security Agency distributed blankets branded with its name and parcels of toiletries for the elderly at an ANC campaign stop Zuma spoke at.

ANC spokeswoman Khusela Sangoni said the party did not know Sassa would be there, adding the party had raised the issue of donations from state agencies at party events with the agency.

“The blankets and parcels that are here are not part of the ANC programme. We can only assume that Sassa is here due to the large numbers of the elderly present,” Sangoni said.

“We know the ANC attracts large groups and some people may want to capitalise on that.”

Free State Sassa spokesman Bandile Maqetuka said they received a request from the Social Development MEC to provide blankets on behalf of Zuma in his capacity as president of the country.

The Sunday Independent understands that the initial idea was for Zuma to hand out the blankets, but at the eleventh hour the ANC’s national office told the province he would not go ahead with the plan.

The blankets distribution move could invite a storm of protest from the opposition ahead of the hotly contested May elections.

Employees of Sassa in branded T-shirts jived and sang along to ANC songs, admitting to The Sunday Independent that they were employed by the agency.

“But we don’t support the ANC. We support the community,” said one employee, speaking anonymously because he was not mandated to speak to the media on behalf of Sassa.

DA spokesperson Mmusi Maimane said the Parys saga was only a “tip of the iceberg” in the ANC’s abuse of state resources for its campaigns. “There is a chronic blurring of the lines between state and party. The ANC does not understand the difference,” he said.

“The City of Johannesburg makes IDP (Integrated Development Plan) submission meetings ANC rallies. When people are in the bus they are given ANC t-shirts.”

Speaking to about 500 elderly ANC supporters, Zuma said “no matter how much negativity and misinformation” about the party, people knew where the party came from – namely that it had liberated South Africa from apartheid rule.

“This movement has produced great leaders. There were many critics, some disagreed and went their own ways. And many organisations were formed but many disappeared,” Zuma said.

He was referring to ANC members who have broken away from Africa’s oldest liberation party.

These have included Robert Sobukwe who formed the PAC in 1959, Bantu Holomisa who was expelled and then formed the UDM, and 2008’s Congress of the People formed by allies of Thabo Mbeki, including former ANC chairman, Mosiuoa Lekota.

More recently expelled ANC Youth League president Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters have quickly made their mark in a fierce contestation with the ANC in this year’s general election campaign.

Free State ANC chairman Ace Magashule was equally dismissive of ANC break-away parties.

“This week we welcomed 300 members back from Cope. And in Ficksburg, 400 members of the EFF came back to the ANC.

“From Zamdela, Sasolburg, 196 EFF members rejoined the ANC,” he said. “Here in Parys, there is no Cope, no EFF. There is only one organisation, the ANC. “They say we have no good story to tell. Before 1994 in Parys, there was only one secondary school. Today after 20 years we have six high schools. So we’ve got a good story to tell,” said Magashule.

Earlier Zuma challenged opposition parties saying their election promises were “empty”.

“They’re not in government. They’re not going to do (what they promise). They are actually making empty promises,” he said.

“They say vote for us because they want to go to Parliament as individuals to be called honourable members… “If you vote ANC you are investing in South Africa’s future.”

Zuma spent his morning in the Free State visiting Zamdela township outside Sasolburg, the scene of violent service delivery protests at the beginning of last year over municipal demarcations. He conducted door-to-door visits to homes, listening to people’s concerns and handing out ANC T-shirts.

He said his meeting with the elderly had convinced him of their vote on May 7, which they “declared without hesitation”. Among them was a man limping who says he was injured many years ago by the farmers. They remember the past,” he said. – Additional reporting by Mogomotsi Magome and Bongani Nkosi

Sunday Independent