24/01/2017 20:31 SAST | Updated 24/01/2017 20:36 SAST

ANC's Ad Agency Says Party's Local Government Election Campaign Work Was Ethical And Professional

Party distances itself from public relations expert who claims she was hired to run a covert campaign.

REUTERS/Mike Hutchings
Supporters of South African President Jacob Zuma's ruling African National Congress (ANC) cheer at a rally to launch the ANC's local government election manifesto in Port Elizabeth, April 16, 2016.

The ANC's campaign for the 2016 local government elections was all above board, advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather said on Tuesday.

It issued a short statement detailing its interactions with the ruling party after an affidavit emerged about an apparent covert ANC campaign to target opposition parties before the local government elections last year.

Ogilvy spokesperson Hannah Dall said they had been an agency of record for the ANC in various elections since 1999, including the one last year.

"O&M were contracted to run the traditional communication for this campaign, including above the line, digital and PR work, and the work produced was absolutely within the parameters of ethical and professional communication," she said.

Public relations expert Sihle Bolani made damning claims in an affidavit that the ANC owed her R2.2m for work she had done on the campaign. Bolani was reportedly a key member of the War Room - a covert team intended to "disempower DA and EFF campaigns" and set a pro-ANC agenda using a range of media, without revealing the ANC's hand.

AmaBhungane reported in an article published on News24 that an inception meeting for the campaign was held last April at the Bryanston Headquarters of Ogilvy & Mather. Ogilvy appeared not to have participated in the team's subsequent activities.

Bolani signed a R1m settlement agreement with ANC general manager Ignatius Jacobs in early December, but is now demanding the full amount, as she has still not been paid. The agreement, attached to the court papers, is on an ANC letterhead.

Part of her job was to create a positive narrative about the ruling party before the elections.

The ANC planned to spend R50m on the covert campaign, according to papers Bolani filed in the High Court in Johannesburg.

According to an amaBhungane report, this included a seemingly independent news site and a chat show, using "influencers" on social media, and planning to print fake opposition party posters.

The campaign team was apparently to be led by activist Shaka Sisulu, while ANC-linked businessman Joseph Nkadimeng was to source funds from private donors.

ANC spokesperson Zizi Kodwa said on Tuesday that the ANC had not contracted or mandated Bolani, Nkadimeng and Sisulu.

"Their activities were not sanctioned by the ANC and consequently, we distance ourselves against any insinuation that any such campaign was known to or approved by the African National Congress."

He said the ruling party always intended to run clean campaigns.

"Accordingly, the ANC does not need nor has it ever engaged in any clandestine 'black ops' to woo voters."

The DA said on Tuesday it was seeking legal advice after handing a copy of the affidavit to its lawyers.

"It may very well be that it discloses potential civil and criminal charges," DA federal chairperson James Selfe said.

They intended taking the matter up with the Electoral Commission of SA (IEC) as it went against the spirit of democratic elections.

He said if the allegations were true, the ANC had violated the Municipal Electoral Act.

On a civil front, he said lawyers would look at the potential of copyright infringements and abuse of corporate identity.