26/01/2017 12:54 SAST | Updated 26/01/2017 15:24 SAST

Yes We Have A War Room But We Could Only Wish For R50m, Say ANC Members

ANC members say there was nothing sinister about the party's election war room. And other organisations also use war rooms.

Gallo Images / Thapelo Maphakela
ANC supporters protest outside the Middelburg Magistrate's Court last year.

ANC members have confirmed that the organisation did indeed have a war room in the run up to the 2016 municipal elections but maintain that there was no covert "paid Twitter" operation.

We have always had a war room leading to every election - ANC source

Three sources from the organisation have told the Huffington Post that they have routinely ran "War Room" operations before elections simply to mobilise support and to get an understanding of the situation on the ground.

"There is nothing sinister about having a war room. We have always had a war room leading to every election. The only thing that has to be clarified is the allegation of R50 million. We could only wish for such an amount to be spent on a campaign. If it is true, we need to understand where it comes from," said a source within the party's National Executive Committee (NEC).

A second source who was part of the election team said the war room serves different functions for the organisation. He also denied the allegations that the party had had R50 million to spend on a covert operation to tarnish the image of other parties because they hadn't had that much to spend on the full election campaign.

The second source said the party focuses chunks of its budget on rallies.

"I was part of the election team of the ANC and not even a fraction of that money registered. The ANC spends money on rallies. It will say we are giving Tshwane 100 buses, one will cost R3,000 to go to Joburg and that will be R300,000. It will do the same for the other regions and provinces. It will spend money on the T-shirts coupled with service providers for water. It would be impossible to channel so much money to such a project," said the source.

The use of "war rooms" is not new, as they are often used by a business or organisation to direct a specific strategy. The government also uses the term when talking about massive projects. In 2014 government set one up to help Eskom turn the corner. At the time, Cabinet devised a five-point plan to deal with the electricity crisis and set up a war room to implement it.

The Gauteng government has also set up a service delivery war room which was aimed at changing the way government serves the people.

The war room and covert "paid Twitter" campaign allegations emerged in a civil court case this week. Businessman Shaka Sisulu and ANC general manager Ignatius Jacobs are accused of running a covert operation to discredit other party leaders during the run-up to last year's local government elections. The party has been fielding questions after businesswoman Sihle Bolani approached the Johannesburg High Court to compel the organisation to pay her R2 million for work she did before the elections. Bolani outlined the campaign in her court papers, claimed she was part of a R50 million covert operation called the War Room which included a social media campaign to tweet and retweet messages, and fake posters of political opponents to drive a smear campaign against opposition parties. In her affidavit, Bolani said Sisulu and a businessman, Joseph Nkadimeng, were to provide the funds for the operation.

Bolani said she was approached by Nkadimeng for the project. She said after months of trying to get the party to settle the bill, party general manager Ignatius Jacobs agreed to R1 million, which ultimately wasn't paid.

The party has distanced itself from the two and added that it did not authorise such a project. Sisulu has also said there is not truth to the allegations.

The second source said all political parties have similar operations which help with preparations and getting to understand where the organisation stands leading into elections.

"There is nothing different. The DA has it as well. There will be slightly different similarities. The ANC, for instance, doesn't pay a company to put up posters but the DA puts aside money for a company to do that. The ANC uses its members and volunteers. The ANC doesn't spend money on election machinery because most of the people who work are volunteers from the organisation. They are trying to brand the ANC as this extravagant organisation which is not the case."

That girl is an agent who is just trying to disrupt and cause trouble

A third source echoed the sentiments saying Bolani was just trying to cause trouble for the organisation. "That girl is an agent who is just trying to disrupt and cause trouble. It's true that the party has a war room for elections, that's what political parties do to prepare."

Professor Susan Booysen from the Wits School of Governance says the term has become fashionable for people when they speak about strategic operations. She added that political parties and government use the term loosely.

"I don't read much into the term war room; what is of importance is what happens inside. I don't think there is any political party that doesn't have operations that amount to something like a war room. It's all about what goes on and how underhanded those operations are that is of importance, no matter what they call it," she said.

A member of the DA has confirmed that the party also has a war room and that the party outsources a company to distribute and place its posters.

"They hire a company to put up the posters and there is also a comms person who takes care of a ward. They ensure that everything runs smoothly. The comms people from the different areas meet up regularly to map the strategies that will work for the organisation," said the source.