State cracks down on on­line slurs

Civil ser­vant could face the axe for post­ing anti-Zuma com­ments on his so­cial-me­dia ac­count and call­ing the ANC big six ‘Zu­mas­triches’

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The net is clos­ing in on ANC-af­fil­i­ated gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials who have used their per­sonal so­cial-me­dia ac­counts to vent their frus­tra­tion about Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma. They will face dis­ci­plinary ac­tion for breach of gov­ern­ment’s so­cial-me­dia pol­icy, among other charges. The charge sheet shown to City Press against se­nior staff makes men­tion of peo­ple in the depart­ment of pub­lic ser­vice and ad­min­is­tra­tion who have made so­cial-me­dia post­ings against Zuma, their em­ployer. The charges they face in­clude vi­o­lat­ing the Con­sti­tu­tion, the depart­ment’s poli­cies and the Na­tional Gov­ern­ment Hand­book for se­nior man­agers.

One of the of­fi­cials who con­firmed he was fac­ing the mu­sic was Brent Si­mons, chief di­rec­tor for train­ing and devel­op­ment in the depart­ment of com­mu­ni­ca­tions. His job in­cludes pro­vid­ing strate­gic com­mu­ni­ca­tion man­age­ment and Cab­i­net sup­port for Pub­lic Ser­vice and Ad­min­is­tra­tion Min­is­ter Ngoako Ra­matl­hodi. He re­ferred City Press to the depart­ment for de­tails of the charges.

Gov­ern­ment has fired staff mem­bers who posted con­tro­ver­sial state­ments on so­cial me­dia that were deemed in­ap­pro­pri­ate.

The charges against Si­mons re­late to com­ments he posted on­line against Zuma and Zulu King Good­will Zwelithini.

Si­mons, an ex­pe­ri­enced com­mu­ni­ca­tor who was spokesper­son for the late pub­lic ser­vice and ad­min­is­tra­tion min­is­ter Collins Cha­bane, was de­moted and “trans­ferred” last year for al­legedly call­ing for Zuma’s down­fall on so­cial me­dia.

Mash­wahle Diphofa, the di­rec­tor-gen­eral of the depart­ment of pub­lic ser­vice and ad­min­is­tra­tion, stated in the let­ter seen by City Press: “Dur­ing the pe­riod of trans­fer, you will cease to be the spokesper­son of the min­is­ter and the depart­ment.” Th­ese are some of the posts that got Si­mons into trou­ble:

“Zuma has no shame! He just screwed the en­tire na­tion on na­tional TV. You are cor­rupt and should have re­signed! You are a dis­grace, Mr Zuma. You are a na­tional em­bar­rass­ment! You are a liar! You are not my leader! You are not my pres­i­dent! A spe­cial NGC [na­tional gen­eral coun­cil] must be called to force­fully re­move you from of­fice.”

“The cur­rent ANC NEC [na­tional ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee] has their heads so far up Zuma’s back­side we can call them Zu­mas­triches.”

“As pres­i­dent of the ANC, he has not only caused harm to the good im­age and rep­u­ta­tion of our party, but [also] to the coun­try.”

In the charge sheet, it states that by writ­ing th­ese posts, Si­mons openly crit­i­cised the gov­ern­ing party, “down­grad­ing the pres­i­dent of the ANC (your em­ployer) to ‘junk sta­tus’”.

Law­son Naidoo, spokesper­son for civil so­ci­ety body Save SA, said the vic­tim­i­sa­tion of civil ser­vants must be “con­demned in the strong­est pos­si­ble terms”.

“That kind of in­tol­er­ance for dif­fer­ent views has no place in our democ­racy,” he added.

In the Hand­book, which the depart­ment is us­ing to charge staff, it is ac­knowl­edged that se­nior man­agers have the right to make pub­lic com­ments and de­bate is­sues in pub­lic.

How­ever, it cau­tions that a se­nior man­ager must not take im­proper ad­van­tage of of­fi­cial in­for­ma­tion and may not act in a way that will “con­sti­tute a breach of reg­u­la­tions”, such as act­ing “in a way that gives rise to a con­flict of in­ter­est”. It also states that of­fi­cials are ex­pected to re­solve com­plaints in­ter­nally, “with­out re­sort­ing to pub­lic com­ment or crit­i­cism”. Bon­gani Ngqu­lunga, spokesper­son for the pres­i­dency, said: “Dis­ci­plinary pro­cesses in gov­ern­ment take place ev­ery day. De­part­ments do not re­port them to the pres­i­dency, nor does the pres­i­dency get in­volved.” Du­misani Nk­wamba, spokesper­son for the depart­ment of pub­lic ser­vice and ad­min­is­tra­tion, con­firmed the case of mis­con­duct against Si­mons. “We can­not di­vulge any fur­ther de­tails un­til the in­ter­nal process is con­cluded.” Nk­wamba de­nied Si­mons had been de­moted, say­ing he was still a chief di­rec­tor in the depart­ment. ANC spokesper­son Zizi Kodwa said there was no link be­tween the pres­i­dent and the de­part­ments tak­ing dis­ci­plinary ac­tion against civil ser­vants and said the ANC had not re­ceived in­for­ma­tion of mem­bers be­ing tar­geted. “How does the mis­con­duct of an em­ployee con­nect to the pres­i­dent? This can­not be cor­rect.” Bereng Soke, gen­eral sec­re­tary of the Na­tional Ed­u­ca­tion Health and Al­lied Work­ers’ Union, said: “We are not aware of any of our mem­bers be­ing tar­geted by the pres­i­dent.”

TALK TO US Should pub­lic ser­vants be barred from ex­press­ing po­lit­i­cal opin­ions on so­cial me­dia?

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Brent Si­mons

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