MEC'S unfair advantage
LEADERS of political parties in Gauteng taking part in the forthcoming local government elections will today sign the Electoral Code of Conduct.
"Elections are a salient act of democratic participation. They represent a cornerstone of our democratic system," Gauteng IEC electoral officer Sy Mamabolo said in a statement to announce the event.
"It is important therefore that they take place in an atmosphere and climate of calm and peace."
Of interest in the statement was the announcement that Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane will address today's gathering on "the role of government in cultivating conditions and climate necessary for democratic elections".
Gauteng health MEC Ntombi Mekgwe should attend this event.
On Sunday Mekgwe apparently visited Chris Hani-Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto ahead of the hospital receiving new CT scans.
This was after media reports that doctors at the hospital were complaining about having no working CT scans. They apparently had to borrow one from a private hospital to perform their duties.
As the department of health political head, Mekgwe was probably visiting the hospital to assure the staff that the government had their welfare and that of the patients at heart.
There was, however, something amiss about Mekgwe's visit.
Her department announced the incident, therefore making the visit official. But Mekgwe arrived at the hospital wearing an ANC T-shirt with the slogan "I am an ANC volunteer".
The question is: "Did Mekgwe go to Chris Hani-Baragwanath Hospital as an ANC volunteer or as the health MEC?"
It is common knowledge that Mekgwe is a member of the ANC. But when she executes her duties as an MEC she does so as a government official representing all South Africans - irrespective of their political affiliation.
With the elections just around the corner, it is important that Mekgwe must take cognisance of this fact.
Failure to do so will lead to the kind of behaviour that gives the ANC an unfair advantage over other parties in the electioneering period.
The advantage created for the ANC in this case is in the message that Mekgwe has sent by wearing her "I am an ANC volunteer" T-shirt.
The message was: "Here I am as a member of the ANC, the party that has your welfare at heart and is delivering services."
This is the reason that Mekgwe must attend today's event so that she can learn from the wisdom of Gauteng's head of government about "cultivating conditions and climate necessary for democratic elections".
It is important that the ANC also steps in to "educate" its members about how to conduct themselves in a manner that cultivates conditions and a climate necessary for democratic elections.
Failure to do so can only lead to accusations that the ANC is conveniently conflating "the party" with "government" to the disadvantage of the other parties contesting the elections.
This would amount to the contravention of the very Electoral Code of Conduct that the various parties (including the ANC) are supposed to sign today.
Section 9 (2) of the Electoral Code states that no person is permitted to, among others, "abuse a position of power to influence the conduct or outcome of an election".
The section also prohibits the use of inducement to, among others things, get a person to vote in any particular way.
Mekgwe's behaviour, whether consciously or unconsciously, amounts to inducing people to vote for the ANC as the party that delivers.
There is nothing wrong with such a message but it must not be delivered using a government platform. The fact that she went there on a Sunday (and not on a week day) is a red herring.
The reality is she got whatever reception she was given because she is an MEC - a government official.
This amounts to her abusing her position as the MEC for health to campaign for her political party.
There is a need to draw the line between the two - that is the essence of democracy. Such separation can only enhance the spirit of the Electoral Code, which is to promote conditions that are conducive to free and fair elections.
Creating an unfair advantage for one party can only undermine that spirit.