This past weekend The Sunday Independent newspaper carried a splash of a headline ‘Abusing resources for Party Gain’ by Mcebisi Ndletyana, ostensibly about a recently released report by the Public Protector titled ‘State and Party, Blurred Lines’.
The report relates to a complaint lodged by the Democratic Alliance (DA) Shadow Minister of Social Development around two events. One in 2009 at Heinz Park and Phillipi in Cape Town – where food parcels were distributed to a needy community, and the other relating to Operation Hlasela in the Free State.
The Public Protector had to consider inter alia whether the said events were in fact organized by the state, and whether the state’s involvement in partnership with political parties amounted to improper conduct or maladministration.
We state that the Sunday Independent article was ostensibly about the findings of the Public Protector, because the sub-headline makes it clear who the author’s real target is. It reads “ANC vote-buying is a danger to our young democracy.’
It is unfortunate that the author clearly did not read the PP’s report properly. If he had he would have not mischievously left two of its critical findings: firstly that despite the claims of the DA, the said events and programmes were organized not by SASSA but by the ANCYL ‘in terms of its own internal resolution and using its own resources.’ (the Western Cape case) and in the case of the Free State, it was a private initiative. Even more critically, in the case of the Western Cape event, that the food parcels distributed at the event were donated by a private company, which in itself should indicate that no state resources were used or abused.
Regardless of this critical finding, the author in the Sunday Independent decries what he calls ‘an entrenched and common transactional practice in our politics’ which ‘the ANC does all the time during elections.’
It is that this point that his argument gets somewhat fuzzy. It is unclear what this common practice is that he is referring to. Is it the distribution of food parcels at government events? Is it the distribution of food parcels at ANC events? Is it both?
Or is the real problem with what he calls ‘frequent displays of collaboration between party and state’, leading to what he calls ‘vote-buying’ by the ANC?
The idea of the distribution of food parcels at events, be they government or party, being tantamount to ‘vote-buying’ is a deeply problematic assumption that should not go unchallenged.
Ndletyana’s ‘theory’ appears on the face of things to tally with recent widely-publicized public utterances by the Public Protector herself, where she in fact infers that SASSA is being used as a tool by the governing party to ‘buy votes’.
One such remark was reported in the Mail and Guardian, where she says: “When a Minister is in an event as a Minister, not as a party representative, he or she cannot endorse a particular political party.”
Earlier this year she also reportedly told a UNISA Youth Research Conference, “I have a big concern about food parcels. They are not supposed to be given at a political rally because only people of a particular political persuasion will come..”
She added: “If food parcels have to be given to alleviate poverty, they have to be given in an apolitical way, and not linked to any day of elections.”
Thanks to the progressive, pro-poor policies of the African National Congress (ANC), prides itself on having one of the most comprehensive, all-encompassing social safety nets in the world.
Every year, through the South African State Social Security Agency (SASSA), the Department of Social Development delivers a wide basket of social services to millions of South Africans, without which many would be condemned to lives of destitution. Year upon year, SASSA provides social grants to children, the elderly, people living with HIV/Aids, and the disabled.
In 2015/15 the Department through SASSA supported “3 181 959 old age grant beneficiaries, 12 042 973 child support beneficiaries, 223 grants to war veterans, 1 112 767 people with disabilities, grants to 142 180 people requiring care dependency, 490 538 people with foster care grants, and 104 232 people with general grant-in-aid individuals.”
This support is given to all qualifying and needy South Africans, regardless of race, sexual identity, gender or religion.
This assistance has never, nor will it ever in an ANC government, be dependent on the political affiliation of the qualifying beneficiary. Despite this fact, claims are regularly made, as does Ndletyana, that the ANC is buying votes with food/t-shirts.
This is clearly an attempt to sow doubt in the minds of the public, by implying the ANC is providing food at its events at the state’s expense. To do so would be alarming if one considers that not a shred of evidence exists to support such a claim.
Although it is necessary to unpack the assumption that government only hands out food parcels to supporters of a particular political party – what is far more problematic is a subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) suggestion that food parcels shouldn’t be handed out at all at political party events – even if they were privately donated.
The public should be aware that unless state resources are involved, investigating what is or isn’t handed out at a party political event (or any private event for that matter) is not within the PP’s mandate.
We live in a country where despite the many gains since democracy, a large percentage of our people continue to face lives of extreme poverty.
It is not the ANC who is ‘reducing voting to the provision of material gains’. It is Ndletyana himself, who in suggesting that people only attend government or ANC events in hope of a food parcel or a free t-shirt, is insulting the voter.
He is also insulting the memories of those who died for this country’s freedom, and of the millions of South Africans who continue to regard the ANC as their political home, and the ANC government as the government of the people.
The people of South Africa continue to support us in successive elections not based on ‘the politics of the stomach’ but because we have delivered on our promise of A Better Life for All.
The ANC concurs that indeed, as Ntledyana says, that ‘abuse of state resources for electoral gain warrants legal prosecution.’
The ANC further encourages all who are able to do so, to furnish proof to back up claims that state resources (and government-bought food parcels in particular) are being misused to advance party political interests.
It is this evidence, and this evidence alone, that could possibly support such a blatantly misleading headline carried by the Sunday Independent.
In the absence thereof, we should be careful with making wild claims aimed at tarnishing the reputation of the governing party, which continues to lead this country, backed by an overwhelming public mandate.
JESSIE DUARTE IS THE DEPUTY SECRETARY GENERAL OF THE ANC