Helen Zille. Picture: THE TIMES
Helen Zille. Picture: THE TIMES

Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane has found that Western Cape premier Helen Zille violated the Executive Ethics Code by assisting her maths teacher son to loan tablets from the province’s education department, so that he could offer extra maths lessons to disadvantaged matric students.

Zille’s son, Paul Maree, was not paid for the extra maths lessons, which he offered in Khayalitsha and surrounding areas in 2014. 

“The premier’s involvement in the process that has resulted in securing access to the tablets in question by her son, and in the acquiring of son’s company’s services and resources, has exposed her to the risk of a conflict between her official responsibilities, as a first citizen of the province, and private interests, which involved her son,” Mkhwebane said.

“This conduct of the premier has consequently resulted in the violation of her constitutional obligation to avoid an exposure to the aforesaid risk.”

Mkhwebane said the rule of law had to be applied to every citizen in the country, and that Zille’s conduct had given her son an “unfair advantage”.

Zille is understood to have vehemently denied that any such conflict of interest existed, as education officials were fully aware that Maree was her son and she had written an e-mail stating that the tablets should be made available to any NGOs or individuals seeking to offer extra maths training.

Mkhwebane has ordered that the speaker of the Western Cape legislature “within 30 working days from the date of the report …take appropriate action to hold the premier accountable”.

President Cyril Ramaphosa must submit his comment on the report within 14 days after receiving it.

The investigation originated from a complaint made by the ANC's Cameron Dugmore. He initially alleged that Zille had advanced her son’s business interests with the procurement of tablets for the Western Cape education department.

These allegations were not proven during Mkhwebane’s investigation. 

Zille said in a statement that she would be taking the finding on review at the high court.

“I reject out of hand that there was any conflict of interest between my public role as premier, and the fact that I supported my son, a mathematics teacher in Khayelitsha at the time, to borrow equipment of the Western Cape education department in order to run free matric preparation workshops in disadvantaged schools.

“Insofar as there may have been a perception of a conflict of interest, I fulfilled the requirements of the law in mitigating it.”

She said the proposed remedial action was unlawful. 

This report follows a previous finding by Mkhwebane that Zille’s controversial colonialism tweets are “likely to cause racial tension, divisions and violence in SA”.

In March 2017, Zille tweeted: "For those claiming legacy of colonialism was only negative, think of our independent judiciary, transport infrastructure, piped water, etc."

Zille is taking that report on review as well.

Correction:  December 20 2018 5.33pm
An earlier version of this story referred to Cameron Dugmore as the ANC's candidate for premier of the Western Cape, however this has not yet been decided.