Helen Zille Picture: BUSINESS DAY
Helen Zille Picture: BUSINESS DAY

Basic education minister Angie Motshekga says she is disappointed and “surprised” by public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s findings against Western Cape premier Helen Zille. 

Motshekga’s open support of Zille is almost unheard of in South African political life — where the opposition and ruling party are often openly antagonist towards each other.

Mkhwebane said on Wednesday that Zille, the former leader of the DA, was guilty of a “conflict of interest” because she facilitated the loan of tablets for her son’s extra maths teaching in disadvantaged Western Cape schools.

“How can you say it’s a conflict of interest when it’s in the public interest?” Motshekga told Business Day on Thursday. 

“My fear is that … children of politicians will now be barred from doing community work. I feel that this is about picking on Zille’s child because he is the son of a politician … This cannot be fair.”

Mkhwebane found that Zille had exposed herself to a potential conflict in 2014 by assisting Paul Maree, who was then a maths teacher in the province, to lend tablets from the department to be used in extra maths lessons for matric pupils.

He was not paid for those lessons, and the tablets were returned without any damage.

But Mkhwebane is adamant that these details are irrelevant, and maintains that Zille gave her son an “unfair advantage” by facilitating the loan of the tablets.

“By intervening in the execution of the contract for the delivery of the computers, in order to ensure that the son can use these tablets, she exposed herself to a risk of a conflict of interest between her official responsibilities and her private interests,” Mkhwebane said. 

Mkhwebane 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”.

Zille said on Wednesday she would seek to challenge the report in court, and is adamant that she was not conflicted. Motshekga seems to agree.

“We should actually appreciate it when our children demonstrate a social conscience and do what Paul did. Very few young people care and this is what should be encouraged. We need to get as many hands on board as possible.”

Motshekga said she had been aware of Maree’s work in developing an app for maths teaching for several years, and her department was “very excited” about it.

“We have repeatedly said that we face major challenges in the provision of maths training, and this a very important way of addressing that,” she said.

She said it was never a secret that Maree was Zille’s son, and his work in using technology to teach maths had shown extremely positive results. Maree is no longer working for the government as a teacher, but has started a business with the app he developed with another maths teacher.

According to Motshekga, there was also nothing unusual about Maree using department tablets to teach his extra maths classes.

“He was doing this for us..he wasn’t going out there to use our computers to DJ.

“We as a department do what we can to assist those who want to help us. If someone is prepared to do a motivational talk for our learners for example, we provide the venue and transport if needed.”

Mkhwebane’s investigation and report followed a complaint by the ANC’s Cameron Dugmore, a former education MEC in the Western Cape.

Motshekga stressed on Thursday that her comments were being made in her official capacity as minister, and not as a member of the ANC.