How the ANC’s R50m ‘war room’ flopped

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Details of the chaos said to have characterised the war room are contained in an application to the Johannesburg High Court brought by a public relations consultant who is suing the ANC for what she claims is R2.2-million owed to her company for work done for the party during the election campaign.

Opposition political parties yesterday called the revelations evidence of “dirty tricks” and the ANC scrambled to distance itself from the war room project, with which party luminary Shaka Sisulu, grandson of party stalwart Walter Sisulu, is said to have been involved.

The court application describes bungle after bungle, including allegations that Sisulu arrived drunk at the war room after an all-night party. A campaign centred on a fake EFF poster was so ineffectual that almost no one noticed it.

In the end, the war room plan was canned and the millions in funding did not materialise.

Sihle Bolani Communications tried yesterday to claw back the money it says is owed to it by turning to the Johannesburg High Court – but the court decided that the application was not urgent.

SBC managing director Sihle Bolani said in court papers that the war room team was put together by Joseph Nkadimeng, a businessman with ties to the ANC and 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 and disempowering its political rivals, the DA and EFF, by printing fake election posters, producing articles for a website called The New South African, and producing material for a television show.

But a project report submitted by Bolani to the ANC in November – and included in the court papers – did not paint a rosy picture of the team’s work.

It described how there had been no adequate office space for the team, no Wi-Fi or telephones, and no access to daily newspapers, magazines or petty cash.

Incompetence, non-delivery and the lack of professionalism had beset the project, Bolani said.

She said the team had agreed to produce and “plant” fake EFF posters to disarm the opposition. She had asked if there were plans to plant callers on radio stations to draw attention to the posters but was told there would be no need because the posters would be on display at busy intersections. The posters went largely unnoticed.

Bolani said in the project report that Sisulu reported to the office “intoxicated”, wearing clothes from the night before.

“Mr Nkadimeng had to buy Mr Sisulu a new shirt before they attended an off-site meeting.”

Sisulu was not available for comment but branded the report “fake news” on Twitter and promised to tell his own tale.

But he failed to appear in his usual role as Trending SA presenter on SABC3 last night. He was said to be attending to “sub judice” court issues.

Curiously, before the show he posted a tweet saying: “I’m on tonight. Executive Decision.”

ANC spokesman Zizi Kodwa said: “Their activities were not sanctioned by the ANC and, consequently, we distance ourselves [from] any insinuation that any such campaign was known to, or approved by, the ANC.”

But it emerged in the court papers that the party had agreed to pay Bolani R1-million in a settlement agreement – without admitting that there had been a contract – after she demanded payment.

Bolani, speaking on Radio 702, was adamant she had worked on behalf of the ANC and had an agreement with the party.

Political analyst Mcebisi Ndletyana said if there was evidence to support the allegation that the ANC had tried to sabotage other political parties it would prove its desperation.

“It went beyond the bounds of normal behaviour in terms of campaigning, which was obviously an admission by the ANC that it had its back against the wall,” he said.

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 it.

“Within that context dirty politics is part of the game.”

The DA said fake posters, fake news releases and slanted 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.

EFF spokesman Mbuyiseni Ndlozi said: “This is very much like the ANC. We had heard from 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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