International conference duplicated by department
The hosting of an international women’s conference in the Eastern Cape has again laid bare the bitter rift between prominent businesswoman Bea Hackula and her former employer, the Department of Social Development.
Hackula hosted the Africa for Africa International Women’s Conference – which enters its third day in Port Elizabeth today – while MEC Nancy Sihlwayi will host a similar conference, with the same name and branding in Bizana today.
Hackula’s conference, which started with a gala dinner on Tuesday night, brought businesswomen mostly from parts of Africa and Canada, to speak on issues affecting women in business and leadership.
While the gala dinner was said to have been well attended by guests, especially in the fashion industry, yesterday’s turnout was low.
The programme was initially scheduled to start at 8am but moved to 9am.
Throughout the morning, Hackula appeared calm as she hosted a media briefing as well as sorting out logistics while guests trickled into the venue.
Proceedings eventually began at 10.30am, with a screening of a recorded message of support from the executive director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, who is in New York.
Asked at about 11am why so many seats were still empty, Hackula said guests were probably late because of the gala dinner the previous night.
By noon, only six 10-seater tables had been filled, out of 500 guests expected at the Feather Market Centre.
A media statement in the run-up to the conference said it would be endorsed and attended by the ministers of tourism, international relations and women.
Only Deputy Tourism Minister Thoko Xasa was at the venue yesterday.
Two insiders close to Hackula claimed the event had been sabotaged, directly or indirectly, by the hosting of the same conference in Bizana.
Asked about the two events, Hackula said: “I cannot comment on what Social Development is trying to do or the use of the same name, because the original concept is my concept.”
While working for the department, Hackula organised the first Africa for Africa conference in Port Elizabeth in 2015. That event was successful. “Remember, I’m coming from a consultant background with my organisation, Transformation Africa,” she said.
“The vision for Africa is something that has always been within me in action and otherwise.
“There shouldn’t be a competition with government, there must be a collaboration.
“This was my brainchild and it was agreed with the partners that supported us that it must operate independently and must continue irrespective of the leadership. “That’s why the private sector was very specific with us on how the programme should unfold.”
Her event was supported by global company PWC and other partners.
“The question is when they started planning. Was it in their plans originally to have an event of this nature or were they triggered because they saw the programme of our event?” Hackula asked.
Sihlwayi’s spokesman Mzukisi Solani said: “As the department, we do not know about the event Bea is hosting.
“We are doing ours [today]. In fact, it is the provincial government event and its focus is to take stock from the one the department hosted in 2015.
“When Bea convened the 2015 event she was an employee of Social Development and whether it was her concept, it became a government programme.
“The event was planned a few months ago and the dates are just a coincidence.”
Hackula, who was in 2014 named Business Woman of the year for her work in the public service, left the department in June 2015.
After much-publicised clashes with Sihlwayi, who she accused of undue political interference, she was moved by premier Phumulo Masualle to the Department of Cooperative Governance.
Masualle suspended and later dismissed Hackula following claims that she had not declared directorships in companies that did work with the Department of Social Development when she headed it.
She has rejected the claims as a baseless, political vendetta and is challenging her dismissal.