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Fri Apr 28 10:25:49 SAST 2017

How ANC election 'war room' turned into a comedy of errors

Ernest Mabuza And Shenaaz Jamal | 2017-01-24 18:13:42.0
A file photo of the ANC flag.
Image by: Stephanie de Sakutin

A R50 million "war room" set up to ensure the ANC emerged victorious in last year’s local government elections was characterised by incompetence‚ unprofessionalism and a lack of accountability.

A public relations expert took the party to court‚ claiming that she was owed R2.2m for work done by her company during the campaign and in the process spilt the beans on how it flopped and was eventually canned. The millions did not materialise.

Sihle Bolani Communications (SBC) tried on Tuesday to claw back the money it is allegedly owed by turning to the High Court in Johannesburg but the court decided the case was not urgent.

SBC managing director Sihle Bolani said in court papers the task team was put together by Joseph Nkadimeng‚ a businessman with ties to the ANC‚ and Shaka Sisulu‚ whose grandfather was ANC stalwart Walter Sisulu.

Bolani claimed that nine companies‚ including Phat Joe’s KTI Media‚ were in on the plan.

The “war room” was focused on enhancing the ANC’s presence on social media while disempowering its political rivals‚ the DA and EFF‚ by printing fake election posters‚ producing articles for a website called The New South African and material for a television show.

But a project report submitted by Bolani to the ANC in November last year did not paint a rosy picture of the team’s work.

She said there was not adequate office space to house the team‚ no access to daily newspapers‚ magazines or petty cash. The core of the problem‚ she said‚ was incompetence‚ non-delivery and unprofessionalism.

Citing one example‚ she said the team agreed to produce and plant EFF posters to disarm the opposition. She enquired if the person responsible planned to “plant” callers on radio stations to draw attention to the posters but was told there was no need because the posters would be at busy intersections. The posters went largely unnoticed.

Bolani recalled how Sisulu reported to the office “intoxicated”‚ wearing clothes from the night before. “Mr Nkadimeng had to go buy Mr Sisulu a new shirt before they attended an off-site meeting. Mr Sisulu’s behaviour gave the impression that he did not take the project seriously‚” said the report.

A lack of invoice payments meant KTI Media could not procure high quality equipment to record videos. There was no Wi-Fi and all the data used and telephone calls made ended up being for her personal account.

Sisulu was not available for comment but branded the report as “fake news” on twitter.

Political analyst Mcebisi Ndletyana said should there be evidence to support the sabotage of political parties it would prove the desperation on the part of the ANC.

“It went beyond the bounds of normal behaviour in terms of campaigning which was obviously an admission of the ANC that they had their back against the wall so they needed to use extra judicial measures.” Said Ndletyana.

Another political analyst‚ Andre Duvanhage‚ said: “Politics is not always a democratic process and in essence it’s about power and how to keep and control power as far as possible and within that context dirty politics is part of the game.”

ANC spokesperson Zizi Kodwa said‚ “Their activities were not sanctioned by the ANC and‚ consequently‚ we distance ourselves against any insinuation that any such campaign was known to or approved by the African National Congress.”

However‚ it emerged in court papers that the party had agreed to pay her R1 million in a settlement agreement – without admitting there was a contract – after she demanded payment for her services.

Bolani‚ speaking on radio 702 on Tuesday afternoon‚ was adamant that she had worked on behalf of the ANC and had an agreement with the party.

The DA said fake posters‚ fake news agencies and television shows were an extreme abuse of democratic processes. If true‚ the allegations showed that the ANC was willing to manipulate and undermine ethical democratic conduct and action in order to ensure continued government rule.

EFF spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi said: “This is very much like the ANC‚ we had heard from various sources that the ANC had considered this tactic.

“They went as far as putting celebrities on their payroll to campaign for them … they knew they had lost their urban relevance.”

He said no amount of propaganda could restore the reputation of a “party of thieves”.

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