Agriculture Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson defended her refusal on Friday to speak at the Cape Town Press Club in the presence of a DA shadow minister.
"Minister Joemat-Pettersson said she was under the impression that being invited to a press club meant addressing members of the media, not politicians," her adviser Rams Mabote said in a statement.
Joemat-Pettersson refused to speak at the club's breakfast briefing on Friday, unless Democratic Alliance shadow minister Pieter Van Dalen, a member of the club, left.
Van Dalen said he agreed to do so because he did not want to deny the audience the opportunity of hearing her speak.
Mabote said: "The minister told the press club that respectfully, if they invite one political party, then they should invite all other political parties."
Had she known it would be a political event, she would have attended in her capacity as member of the African National Congress's national executive and national working committees.
Mabote said he could not understand why the club took exception to the minister's reaction.
"The minister goes to Parliament... she addresses politicians every day, so why is she expected to at the Press Club? Why don't they invite other political parties, then?" He said Joemat-Pettersson's office did not know her shadow minister would be at the event, contending this was not the appropriate setting for political debate. Joemat-Pettersson did not ask Van Dalen to leave, but communicated this through the club's chairman Donwald Pressly.
"The minister even offered to leave herself if the Press Club had issues with her misgivings." Mabote said it appeared Van Dalen wished to capitalise on the briefing to continue a disagreement the two had during her budget vote speech on Thursday.
Earlier, Van Dalen said Joemat-Pettersson's conduct was unacceptable. "If minister Joemat-Pettersson can't take the heat, she needs get out of the kitchen," he said. Pressly was similarly unimpressed: "One is surprised that an elected politician and servant of the entire electorate is unable to take the heat of probing questions from whatever quarter."
National Press Club chairman Yusuf Abramjee said the minister's conduct "smacks of arrogance and this nonsense must stop". Van Dalen said he had been looking forward to hearing her, as she did not often speak with the media or public.
Van Dalen said the minister's behaviour indicated "a disregard for basic principles on which our democracy is based, such as accountable and responsive governance".
Joemat-Pettersson had allowed her personal sentiments to affect her ability to do her job, he said. On Thursday, he called on Joemat-Pettersson to resign during the debate on her department's budget vote due to "her questionable performance over the last three years and the poor state of her department".
Van Dalen said her conduct at the Press Club was "irrational". "I am even more resolute in my belief that the minister is unfit to hold public office".
Pressly said Joemat-Pettersson's office had accused the club of dishonesty over its guest list to the breakfast meeting. "Van Dalen is a fully paid-up member of the Cape Town Press Club, and as such is entitled to attend any Cape Town Press Club event he chooses to attend," he said in a statement. Pressly said the minister's office had "no prerogative" to dictate to the club which of its members were allowed to attend its own meetings.
"Perhaps it is a case of the answers being potentially embarrassing, rather than the questions," he said.
Abramjee said he would not have allowed Joemat-Pettersson to address the meeting if she was not prepared to speak in front of Van Dalen. He said it was "disrespectful" of her to use the public platform provided by the Cape Town Press club for "petty politicking".