DA leader and Western Cape Premier Helen Zille. Picture: THE TIMES
Helen Zille. Picture: THE TIMES

A WAR of words between the Democratic Alliance (DA) and the African National Congress (ANC) erupted on Wednesday with DA leader Helen Zille accusing the ANC of attempting to deflect attention away from the "fact" that millions of rand have been siphoned out of state-owned enterprises for a series of New Age Business Breakfasts.

Earlier on Wednesday, the ANC came out guns blazing, labelling Ms Zille a "liar" and saying her "lies bring into question the extent to which South Africans can take the DA seriously".

On Monday, Ms Zille pulled out of one of the breakfasts following reports that the event was funded with public money. She said she and other senior DA officials had previously spoken at the breakfast under the assumption that it was funded by The New Age and members of the public who bought tickets to attend.

In a statement earlier this week explaining her decision, Ms Zille said she pulled out of the event after reading an article in the City Press newspaper, in which it reported that Eskom, Telkom and Transnet spent millions on the sessions, while the SABC broadcast them free of charge.

However, the ANC and its Women’s League on Wednesday demanded an apology from Ms Zille, accusing her of lying about not knowing that Telkom had sponsored the breakfast briefing she had attended. On Tuesday, The New Age released a video clip on its website of Ms Zille thanking Telkom for sponsoring The New Age Business Breakfast in Cape Town in February last year.

"It is the view of the ANC that on numerous occasions Helen Zille has been found wanting when it comes to telling the truth," ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu said on Wednesday.

"She has been masquerading as a so-called ‘voice of reason’ whilst she has been distorting the truth and misleading the public."

Asked earlier this week during an interview with Eye Witness News (EWN) whether she had thanked Telkom at a previous New Age business breakfast, in which she participated, Ms Zille told EWN she could not recall doing so.

"I cannot personally recall thanking anybody ... but it was a very long time ago and I have many, many engagements every day," she said.

The ANC Women’s League said Ms Zille had revealed her "true deceitful nature".

"It is disgusting that the leader of the opposition can lie to the public with such ease, making such contradictory statements barely a year later when Zille released a statement denying she had any knowledge of who was sponsoring the event," spokeswoman Troy Martens said.

On Wednesday, Ms Zille said: "The ANC is clearly trying to deflect attention from the real issue. This was not a sponsorship. When someone sponsors an event, they pay the cost of part or the entire event".

"It has now emerged that these costs were more than covered by the ticket sales. So what was Telkom doing giving R1m to a private company owned by a major benefactor of President Zuma and the ANC? Was the sponsorship merely a convenient cover for that? This is the scandal. Obviously the ANC wants to deflect attention from it," Ms Zille said.

With Sapa