Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane found that Western Cape Premier Helen Zille violated the constitution back in 2014 “when she failed to avoid exposure to the risk of promoting” her son Paul Maree’s business in the awarding of a contract of tablets to Western Cape schools” four years ago.
Even though students could benefit from the programme in the long run, Mkhwebane said that Zille “exposed herself to the risk of conflict of interest” and the lines were blurred when it comes to her official responsibilities to the country and her private interests.
The case made its way to the Public Protector’s office three years later when it was brought to her attention that Zille “put pressure on officials to kick-start” Maree’s business, The Citizen reported in 2017. At the time, ANC MPL Cameron Dugmore put forth that Zille’s actions not only boosted Maree’s business but also denied other service providers an equal opportunity.
Zille responded to the accusation by saying that her son was offering his services for free and that he was acting in the capacity as a teacher at the Centre of Science and technology in Khayelitsha. Maree’s business partner, Chris Mills, could conveniently not remember “how they went about applying” for the department’s help.
Zille added that there was “absolutely no corruption involved and not even a conflict of interest or anything remotely wrong. If I was in the same situation today, I would do exactly the same thing again.” In a press statement posted on her Facebook page, Zille said she rejects that there was a conflict of interested, and that her actions were “lawful, constitutional and appropriate in the circumstances.”
#PublicProtector Mkhwebane now on Zille helping her son get access to govt tablets for NGO work: Premier's relationship with her son in this matter constituted private interest which was sufficient to influence or appear to influence the exercise her official duties. @eNCA— Govan Whittles (@van1go) December 19, 2018
She concluded: “On the question of the risk of PERCEPTION of conflict I took care to prevent this, by writing a letter to the Director-General, which I copied to other officials, saying that the tablets had to be made available to anyone else wanting to use them for the same purposes. In this way, I ensured that my son would not receive special treatment. I wrote: ‘I just want to make it clear, as discussed with Minister Schafer, that these tablets should be available for use by ALL service providers who provide FREE services to students in the run-up to the examinations till the end of the year (not necessarily only matrics).’”
Mkhwebane will release her findings in due course, and still has to address the matter of “abuse of cellular phone allowances by public officials,” as well as “Premiere Zille’s colonial tweets matter.”
Netizens will recall Zille’s famous tweet from March 2017, stating that “those claiming legacy of colonialism was ONLY negative [should] think of our independent judiciary, transport infrastructure, piped water, etc.” At the time, DA leader Mmusi Maimane said that the DA deem Zille’s tweets to be “completely unacceptable and indefensible.”
Twitter user Wayne Habig, at the time, succinctly responded: “Kak, all those things could have happened with communication, trade and education. Colonialism aimed to occupy, steal and convert.” Ben Pooler wanted to know if she would say next that slavery wasn’t all bad either because it “gave people the opportunity to visit foreign countries.”
“No. Necessity is the mother of invention. When those things became necessary, Africans would have conceptualised and built. Don’t conflate the importance of independent judiciaries. Those are essential for social systems based on Western democracy. Who’s to say that democracy and independent judiciaries are necessarily better than African social systems that were erased? Apparently, countries that weren’t colonised would never be able to advance? What happened to free trade? Why aren’t you telling European countries that they would never have education and universities & modern medicine if they hadn’t stolen these things and written history in a way that purports them to be European inventions? Stop. Just stop it.”
At the other end of the spectrum, Steffan Muller mentioned that “tribal wars, selling daughters for cows, serve chief and dig chief’s garden” would be the order of the day, while Karin Morrow said “it’s not a popular view, but true,” as South Africa would have a “very different landscape today without infrastructure, without engineering.”