State cracks down on online slurs

2016-11-20 06:00
Brent Simons

Brent Simons

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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.”

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