The Sarafina II Controversy



Unfortunately, the biggest health story of 1996 so far is not related to the Department of Health's transformation policies or legislative initiatives. The most publicised project of the year began in August 1995 when the Department of Health awarded a R14.27 million contract to internationally acclaimed playwright Mbongeni Ngema to produce a sequel to the musical, Sarafina, about AIDS that would reach young people.

In late January 1996, many questions were raised about the Sarafina 2 project in the print media. At that time, journalists questioned the amount of money spent on a single play, the selection and tendering process which awarded the contract to Ngema, and the source of funding for the play. Further concerns were raised by AIDS activists about the lack of consultation around this initiative and the appropriateness of the play's content and message to change youths' sexual behaviours.

The National Assembly Health Portfolio Committee invited Minister Zuma and senior health officials to a public meeting to discuss the play and related issues which had been raised. It was reported in the media that President Mandela intervened to cancel the Portfolio Committee hearing. This claim was subsequently denied by the President's office.

According to the Standing Rules of the National Assembly, "a portfolio committee shall monitor, investigate, enquire into and make recommendations relating to any aspect of the legislative programme, budget, rationalisation, restructuring, functioning, organisation, structure, policy formulation or any other matter it may consider relevant, of the government department falling within the category of affairs assigned to the committee." Among other duties, parliamentary portfolio committees are thus expected to serve as watchdogs over government departments to ensure that public funds are being spent appropriately and to ensure the accountability of the public administration to the people.

A public hearing by the Health Portfolio Committee was held, on the 28 February chaired by Dr Manto Tshabalala. After the Committee hearing, Opposition Parties (NP, DP, PAC, IFP, ACDP etc.) called for Minister Zuma's suspension and demanded a further investigation. Because of the public controversy and the many unanswered questions surrounding the play, the Office of the Public Protector decided to investigate the project at the request of Mr Mike Ellis (Member of Parliament for the Democratic Party).

The Office of the Public Protector is mandated by the Constitution "to investigate any conduct in state affairs, or the public administration in any sphere of government, that is alleged or suspected to be improper or to result in any impropriety or prejudice."

Summary of the Public Protectors Report

The Public Protectors report spells out clearly that Sarafina II was the idea of Minister Zuma. She then shared it with Director of HIV/AIDS and STD programme Mrs Abdool Karim. During June 1995, the two officials had a meeting with Mbongeni Ngema to discuss the idea with him. At the time of their discussion no clarity existed on the source of funding for the play. There were two potential sources, the European Union (EU) or the Department of Health's budget. According to the Public Protectors report, Chief Director of National Programmes Dr Mtsali and Mrs Abdool Karim should have made that decision which was never done. No clarity exist on who made the decision that the European Union's budget had to carry the cost. However, the report stipulates that a maximum of R5 million was verbally set by the Minister.

It is further noted that after Minister Zuma's meeting with Mr Ngema, she met with Director-General Dr Shisana and Mrs Abdool Karim to discuss implementation. At that time Minister Zuma made clear that she wanted the opening performance of the play on World AIDS Day (1 December 1995). Dr Shisana in turn instructed the Chief Director of Departmental Support Services Mr H Bardenhorst to investigate methods and procedures to implement the play.

Planning and drawing up of tendering specifications was done within the Department. The report indicated that the Department identified the recipients of the tenders notice. Notices for tenders were sent on 24 July 1995 to the following companies: Opera Africa, PACT Windybrow Centre for Arts and Committed Artist Theatre Company. The tender notice had the following requirements:

The department receive two proposals, one from Committed Artist Company on the 25 July for R14 247 600 and the other from Opera Africa for R600 000. PACT Windybrow only had 24 hours notice and did not submit a proposal. Mrs Abdool Karim evaluated the two tenders, using the criteria set out in the specifications for the tenders. She recommended the Committed Artist Company Theatre. Her recommendation was forwarded to Chief Director Dr Mtshali. No objections to the amount of R14,27 million were made by either of these officials, and Chief Director Support Services Mr Bardenhorst on the instructions of Dr Mtshali forward their recommendations to the Tender Committee.

The Tender Committee objected to some of the line items in the Committed Artists Budget and did not make a decision. Without the approval of the State Tender Board, the contract with Committed Artist Company was signed on 10 August 1995 by Mr. H Bardenhorst. Tendering procedures used were neither those of the State Tender Board or the European Union, but State Tender Board forms were used. Justifications provided by the Department stated that the tender process was followed according to the rules stipulated by the European Union, which read " The contractor shall provide evidence of a restricted invitation to tender involving not less than 3 suppliers from eligible countries in the case of goods valued in excess of ECU 10 000 (about R50,000 at the time)."

The Public Protector questioned the action of the Department of Health and asked whether it was necessary for the department to spend R14,2 million to attain their goal of bringing across the HIV/AIDS message or whether it could have been attained at a lower price. The cost for the play is viewed as an unauthorised expenditure, meaning that the Department spent money it did not have. Further, mention is made that the HIV/AIDS message that the play conveyed is inadequate and questionable and should be revised and improved if the play were to continue. In conclusion, the Public Protector found the Sarafina II AIDS Play a worthy exercise, but mentioned that the mismanagement that followed the initiative cannot be justified.


The Public Protector recommended the following steps be taken to avoid similar mistakes in the future.

Department's Response

The Department accepted Public Protector Mr Selby Baqwa's recommendations, and funding for the play has subsequently been stopped. Minister Zuma alluded to anonymous private donor funding to continue, but no private business or organisation has come forward yet to announce a partnership. The Director-General announced that an internal investigation into the alleged misconduct of Mr Badenhorst and Mr Angelo will be done. The Director HIV/AIDS and STD Programmes Mrs Abdool Karim has publicly apologised for the mistakes made by her directorate. She is currently on three month study leave in New York.

Some Lessons Learned

While the Sarafina 2 storm may have blown over the Department of Health, it has left much political and economic damage in its wake for the Department and the young democracy. The credibility of Minister Zuma and senior Department officials has been severely damaged. The Public Protector's report notes that Minister Zuma and Dr Olive Shisana, Director-General, misled Parliament and the media. The allegations and counter allegations about the source of funding for the play between the European Union (EU) and the Department could jeopardise future international funding for the Department. The policy work of the Department was put on hold as this controversy unfolded. Drafts of a new Health Act and a new Abortion Bill were further delayed because of this crisis.

Further, the reluctance of some members of the Health Portfolio Committee and Parliament to ask difficult questions of the Ministry of Health during its investigations raises serious questions about the role of Parliament in ensuring transparency and accountability within government.

Lastly, Parliament's inability to demand greater accountability on behalf of the public could adversely impact future international donor funding for the Department of Health, the RDP, and the entire Government of National Unity. Perhaps the most distressing aspect of the entire débâcle was that the views of most South Africans were largely ignored because they do not have access to their democratically elected officials. If people on the ground had the advocacy skills needed to apply pressure to their elected officials and their civil servants, these officials may have made greater efforts to be more transparent and accountable.


  1. K Strachan, Business Day, 27 February 1996.
  2. Standing Rules for the National Assembly and for Joint Business and Proceedings of the National Assembly and the Senate. National Assembly. February 1995. Cape Town, Republic of South Africa.
  3. Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996. Section 182 (1 ).
  4. Office of the Public Protector. Report No 1 ( Special Report ) Investigation of the Play Sarafina II. June 1996.

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