Politics is a dirty game. It’s so dirty that no one, absolutely no one can play it and come out smelling like roses. DA leader and Western Cape Premier Helen Zille is learning the hard way. I’m not sure if it’s sheer arrogance, which has characterised DA politics in recent times, or just plain naiveté that she thought no one would follow the story.
True to form, after newspaper reports that Telkom, Eskom and Transnet had spent at least R27-million sponsoring the New Age’s breakfast functions and advertisements, the DA announced that Zille was pulling out of a scheduled appearance and duly condemned the sponsorship as corrupt.
I agree that it’s a bit odd that the functions were sponsored exclusively by the state-owned enterprises but the blame for that cannot be put on the newspaper itself but on the parastatals. The DA argument that it’s corrupt for a business to seek sponsorship when it can cover its costs from the ticket sales is shoddy and disingenuous. Businesses always seek sponsorship. The New Age is a private business that seeks to make a profit so why should it limit its sponsorship potential.
The issue should be whether the parastatals followed proper protocols in sponsoring the events and did they benefit as envisaged through such sponsorships?
After pulling out of the scheduled appearance Premier Zille claimed she didn’t know in the past that the functions were sponsored by the parastatals. The New Age hit back by releasing a video of the premier thanking Telkom for sponsoring a function she’d appeared in a year ago, possibly through sponsorship. This did not appear to faze Zille as she stubbornly accused the New Age of siphoning money from the government via its relationship with the ANC and President Jacob Zuma.
This has been an amusing little circus — the premier caught in a lie in every corner. Next it emerged she’d received donations from the same Gupta family. Seemingly it’s OK to get money for her party from the very same people she accuses of corruptly siphoning money from the government.
When I pointed this contradiction to her on twitter she responded: “That would assume we had received money from them after we found out about the siphoning of public money. Get logical pls.” This is odd seeing that the premier has been accusing the Guptas of benefitting corruptly from the government through their relationship with President Jacob Zuma since at least 2009 and she knowingly took money from them since then until at least 2011.
In her statement released a few days later Zille claimed she went to the Gupta house to meet the mystery donor (she has since named the donor in public in contrast to DA policy as Sahara Computers chief executive Stefan Nel) who turned out to be a Gupta company executive and received a cheque from him. She claims the DA sent a letter of thanks to the Guptas as courtesy because she had had dinner at their house.
The not-so-mysterious donor denies this. According to the latest media reports he claims the premier knew the donation was from the Guptas and that he was merely facilitating it as a Gupta employee. He also claims the money came from Sahara Holdings (main Gupta company) and not his pocket.
What has been most interesting about the Zillegate scandal is how the mainstream media have handled it. Gone are the experts and commentators who offer their invaluable opinion and analysis on any matter and all we see is the vilification of their own, the New Age, and the carrying of Zille’s responses to the last full stop without the usual comment and analysis.
This has gone as far as the twitter hashtag used for the scandal being #infogate. This was chosen by the DA and picked up by journalists and media as gospel. The very same journalists who claim independence have come up with a number of nametags before like #nkandlagate etc but when it comes to this there is no #Zillegate. They follow what the DA desires the scandal to be called.
It would be naïve to believe we have a free and balanced media in this country. With the reporting on the Zille-Gupta story the media have stooped to their lowest.
It’s clear the New Age is suffering for its perceived sympathetic stance towards the government and ANC. What’s wrong with this in an environment where almost all media outlets are sympathetic to the opposition?
As for Zille and the DA, they’ve shown that in politics it’s difficult to keep a totally clean nose and to hold themselves to the same standards they hold the ruling party. But why is this so difficult?
Zille claimed that publicly outing the DA’s funders would invite the wrath of the ANC and result in the death of smaller political parties. Only the DA and ANC are opposed to disclosing their funders. The rest have, for years now, called for transparency.