The African Transformation Movement’s Mzwanele Manyi is the key figure in claims of conspiracy lodged by a group of small parties following the 2019 elections. Just an hour into Thursday morning he was claiming on Twitter that the ink on his thumb had washed off. Immediately he said: “A case for a rerun may well be on the table.”
It was Manyi again on Thursday evening who led a group of people through the Results Operations Centre singing and protesting. The song has been translated as “The IEC doesn’t know us”. The people in the group belonged to different parties, but it was clear that Manyi was in charge.
One of the first people to pop up on SABC in the moments after that impromptu press conference was Adil Nchabeleng. He claimed to be speaking on behalf of one of the smaller political parties, but was first seen operating publicly in our politics by speaking on behalf of an organisation called Transform RSA. Its first public political act was back at the beginning of 2018, when it sent a letter to the ANC’s National Executive Committee demanding that it refrain from discussing whether to recall Jacob Zuma as president. The same group has been involved in court action trying to stop the Department of Energy from signing contracts with independent power producers for Eskom.
In other words, this appears to be a Zuma-aligned pressure group.
There is strong evidence that the same is true of Manyi’s ATM. The party was formed only in the last 18 months. Recent court papers have claimed that both Zuma and ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule were involved in its formation.
Manyi denies this. But Manyi also claimed before the election that the party would be the next party of government. On Thursday night, well into the counting, again on SABC TV, he said that it would receive two million votes.
None of this has materialised.
Then there are other dynamics around this sudden spurt of accusations.
Again on Thursday evening, this reporter found himself sitting in a TV studio preparing to speak to the national communications manager of the ATM, Sizwe Richard, and Tebogo Saidi, the deputy president of the African Security Congress (a party representing security guards). As we waited to broadcast I remarked casually that the two of them seemed to be getting on very well for opposing political parties. Then they both confirmed that in fact they had an electoral agreement. Saidi explained that because the ASC was only on the national ballot, it had asked its supporters to vote for the ATM in the provincial elections.
Considering that the ATM is very well funded and the ASC appears to have virtually no money, it may well be worth asking how exactly this agreement was reached.
But these two parties are not the only ones related to each other in some way.
The National Freedom Party (NFP) is one of those that signed the legal letter to the IEC on Friday. Its rival in KwaZulu-Natal, the IFP, has consistently claimed the NFP is doing the work of the ANC, to weaken it in the province. NFP leader Zanele kaMagwaza-Msibi was given the position of deputy minister of science and technology, and has kept that position despite suffering a debilitating stroke.
Then there is the African Content Movement (ACM), formed by that “wonderful person called Hlaudi”. Hlaudi Motsoeneng had incredible political protection during the Zuma years, and the SABC is still trying to recover from the damage (particularly financially) that he wrought. It would seem unsurprising that he is a part of all of this.
Of course, not all of the parties involved in this challenge can be connected in this way. No one can seriously suggest that the Women Forward movement has any links to Zuma or any other conspiracy. The same would be true of Cope and many others. But it seems likely that this is a case where there is a confluence of interests.
The real question is, where is the money coming from? And the answer there may well lie in the direction of Manyi and the ATM.
Intriguingly, this group might well have chosen one of the most experienced attorneys in this area of law through which to mount its challenge.
Hans-Jurie Moolman may not be well-known to many in political circles. He is a former councillor for the DA in Tlokwe (Potchefstroom). But he gained unparalleled experienced in the legal questions around elections and the IEC during the series of cases he led involving the dispute about the registration of voters’ addresses. This issue came to the fore when a group of ANC councillors rebelled against their party, and then contested elections as independents. The case came before the Constitutional Court several times because of its complex nature.
In the end, he won. It is for this reason that you had to supply your address to the IEC to vote in these elections.
For any challenge to these results to be successful it is likely that someone will have to prove that any problems would have had a “material impact” on the result of the poll. In other words, a few votes here and there may not matter legally speaking, but if it actually had a significant impact on the result, then a court could make certain orders.
As a result of this, numbers matter.
By 9:30 on Saturday morning, the IEC had counted 99.88% of the vote. The total number of votes stood at 17,392,392. The total number of votes cast in favour of all the parties challenging the result stood at 481,844. By way of contrast the ANC and the DA between them had a total of 13,610,938. This means that all of these political parties challenging the outcome together won a total of roughly 2.77% of the vote.
While it can certainly be argued that every vote matters in an election, the courts are likely to ask if there was indeed a material impact on the results of the polls. It would seem simply unbelievable that a vast conspiracy existed involving different political parties and the IEC to “steal the election” from these smaller players. Certainly, pictures of clean thumbs on Twitter will not be enough. Rather, proper evidence will have to be produced before any judge even begins to take the case seriously.
However, there may in fact be another agenda at play.
One of the dynamics of the Zuma era was a continual subtle undermining of the legitimacy of many of our institutions. People would make claims against judges, against Chapter Nine Institutions, against the former public protector (including the claim, never withdrawn, that she might be a CIA agent). The aim of this was not necessarily to cause an immediate impact, but perhaps to just continually weaken these bodies in the eyes of the public. This then would make it easier to confront them when they tried to perform their duty in the post-Zuma recovery that is likely to take years.
It could well be that this challenge, and the very public pronouncements about it, is just part of that agenda. It is clear that there is much more political and legal drama to come involving Zuma and those who supported him during his time in office. The various institutions of government will be brought into play during this drama. And it could be to some people’s advantage if the legitimacy of these bodies was weakened significantly before it all starts.
This could mean then, that while this challenge to the IEC is all but guaranteed to be ultimately unsuccessful, it could in fact be part of a much greater agenda. DM