Democratic Alliance (DA) leader and Western Cape Premier Helen Zille announced on Monday she would no longer participate in the New Age newspaper’s business breakfasts, and particularly the one at the end of the month when she would be the special guest.

This followed revelations at the weekend that state-owned enterprises had sunk millions of rand into the initiative.

Cabinet ministers frequently address these breakfasts with of Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande scheduled to appear on Thursday and President Jacob Zuma on February 15, the day after his state of the nation address in Parliament. The breakfast interviews are broadcast live on SABC.

City Press reported on Sunday that Transnet had forked out R17,5m for 18 breakfast sessions and Eskom R7.2m for six sessions between November 2011 and last year, while the SABC did not charge New Age for the live broadcasts. Telkom sponsored 12 business breakfasts at R12m in the 2012-13 financial year.

Both Transnet and Eskom justified the sponsorships as helping to build their brands.

Eskom spokeswoman Hilary Joffe told 702 Talk Radio on Monday that the New Age Business Breakfast was a good marketing opportunity to expand the parastatal’s brand. "We have an extensive programme of communicating with our stakeholders around the country and we take advantage of opportunities to do so," she said. "We do these breakfasts as an opportunity to do so."

New Age CE Nazeem Howa hit out at the programme’s critics in an editorial in the newspaper on Monday. He accused its rivals of "jealousy" because the New Age’s circulation was growing while theirs was shrinking and said they were trying "to bully our sponsors to kill our venture by frightening them with all kinds of political innuendo".

Ms Zille said she and other senior DA members had spoken at the New Age breakfasts on the understanding they were funded by the newspaper and by the members of the public.

"Now that it has come to light that the breakfasts are funded by public money via the state-owned enterprises to the tune of millions of rand, the DA cannot continue to participate," Ms Zille said. "These breakfasts must be very profitable for the New Age, which is owned by the Gupta family, who are in turn vocal supporters and funders of the African National Congress (ANC) and Mr Zuma.

"It is not acceptable or defensible for public money to be used to bankroll a privately owned newspaper, and indirectly the coffers of the ANC. This is another example of the how ANC cadres in business and ANC cadres in government work together to funnel money to the ANC in a mutually beneficial but essentially corrupt relationship. The DA will not be part of it."