Church, State, and Party.

It is, however, essential that the separation between party and state is respected, and that state funds are not used to fund party political activity in any guise.”

– Athol Trollip, as Parliamentary Leader of the Democratic Alliance (2011)

A curious tweet appeared on my timeline the other day. Phumzile Van Damme, the DA’s spokesperson and a member of Parliament, expressed dismay that the ANC was “marching on itself”. She was commenting on the march to the Union Buildings which ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe would be leading.

To me, this was not an instance of the ANC marching on the ANC. Yes, the Union Buildings may be occupied by an ANC-led Government, but one has to recognise that despite this, the Union Buildings is ‘State’ and not ‘Party’. If the ANC truly were marching on itself, it would be marching to Luthuli House.

No matter how ‘captured’ the state may be by the DA’s estimates, the Union Buildings is still occupied by the President of the Republic. Yes, the President of the Republic is also President of the ANC, but the distinction lies in the separation of State and Party. These distinctions, however often grey, come with some clear lines.

That the ANC was “marching on itself” indicates that there exists a strong separation in the eyes of the ANC. This is something Van Damme failed to appreciate, despite the party she supposedly speaks for feeling rather strongly about the issue.

The United States Office of Government Ethics provides some handy hints of the separation of State and Party:

  • The employee [of the State] may only use official time to perform official duties.

  • [The Hatch Act] prohibits employees from engaging in political activity while on duty or in the Federal workplace.

  • An employee [of the State] may not use Government property, nonpublic information, or time (including the time of a subordinate) for other than authorized purposes.

Mmusi Maimane, in a recent newsletter, reiterated the hazards of no clear line between party and state:

The ANC, on the other hand, has found itself a seemingly bottomless pot of money in the government’s recently announced “Back to Basics” programme, which has been presented as “an action plan, to strengthen local government by getting the basics right”.

Of course, this programme has a substantial communication budget, and this is where government conveniently abandons all semblance of separation between party and state.

Millions are spent by the State on these communication campaigns – boldly presented in the ANC’s “corporate identity” and often emblazoned with a photograph of President Zuma. In the run-up to elections, government successes and projects are trumpeted on leaflets, posters, billboards, press ads and vehicles in unmistakable yellow, green and black, often using ANC election slogans.

Yet, on the left in the picture below we see Maimane, “boldly presented in the DA’s corporate identity”, together with Premier Helen Zille and Mayor Patrice De Lille, participating the Extended Public Works Programme – a State run initiative. It was all branded with DA’s election slogan, “DA for Jobs”.

Screenshot from 2016-02-16 08-48-33

The DA has had a long history on calling for the separation of State and Party. In 2009, then Leader of the DA, Helen Zille said in a newsletter that “the institutions of state … must be genuinely independent from the ruling party”. Maimane this year said on twitter, “We’ve a clear separation between party & state.”

A change in leadership does not necessary mean a change in focus, but there has clearly been a change of understanding.

The concept of “state” is not limited to just the executive sitting in the Union Buildings. As Premier, Helen Zille is just as much State as Mayor De Lille is. Both Zille and De Lille are part of “Government”.

As Pierre de Vos says, “Where the party in government abuses public resources to advance its own party political interests it therefore acts in an anti-democratic manner and undermines the basic values underlying the South African Constitution.”

Had Maimane not been at the event, there would be no cause for concern, since it would have been simply a case of State representatives showcasing a State initiative. That Maimane appeared, in DA branding (not even just a casual blue to allude to DA-ness that he claims the ANC has the mild dignity to do), as Leader of the DA Party, must surely raise some questions.

As a Member of Parliament, Maimane has access to State resources. So does Helen Zille as Premier. The resources can be as large as a budget, or as minimal as an office.

Thus, should a Member of Parliament (Leader of the Official Opposition, even) use their State office to discuss Party matters, one must surely conclude that there has been a contravention of the separation of State and Party?

Screenshot from 2016-02-16 08-47-19

So then, when Premier Helen Zille, and her entire cabinet signs a DA Party’s pledge, on State time, in a State office, as State employees, does this contravene the separation?

I would argue that it does not, and falls into the ‘grey’ area. However, according to the United States Office of Government Ethics, Premier Zille clearly did not use official time for only official business.

We do not directly elect Presidents and Premiers. Instead, we elect Political Parties, on the promise that, should they become the majority government, they will implement the party’s policies while ‘pre-selected’ leaders will govern the state.

Thus, when a party assumes power, we want the party to infiltrate the state – but with its policies and beliefs. We want the party to use state resources to implement their policies. Ultimately, the policies of the party will become the policies of the state – this is what we, as voters, desired.

We do not elect new parties to continue business as usual.

However, this support is not bidirectional. The issue is not that a party uses state resources to legitimately implement party policies. It becomes problematic when the party uses state resources to further the interests of the party.

The use of state resources for party gain can be subtle, but the use is not on a sliding scale of lesser evils. The grey areas that exist are not that some uses are more or less acceptable than others, they lie therein that there is no consensus on whether or not state resources were abused for party gains.

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