ELECTORAL COURT

End of an error: BLF officially deregistered as political party

By Rebecca Davis 6 November 2019
Caption
Black First Land First (BLF) leader Andile Mngxitama. (Photo: Gallo Images / Sowetan / Masi Losi)

The Electoral Court in Bloemfontein has dismissed the appeal of Black First Land First against its deregistration as a political party — meaning that Andile Mngxitama’s movement is now officially deregistered. The ruling was hailed as a victory for non-racialism by the Freedom Front Plus, which took the matter to court because BLF prohibited white members. It brings to an end a saga spanning almost a year.

The constitution of Andile Mngxitama’s Black First Land First (BLF) movement states that “any black person who has reached the age of eighteen” may become a member of BLF.

The document clarifies that “the black people in South Africa are (as indicated by Steve Biko) those that come from the African communities, the so-called Coloured communities and so-called Indian communities”.

It is this clause that prompted the Freedom Front Plus (FF Plus) to approach South Africa’s Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) in January 2019 to complain that the party should not be permitted to contest the 8 May general elections.

This week, a saga with more than a few touches of the absurd has finally been brought to a close. With the Electoral Court’s dismissal of an appeal by BLF, the movement has officially been deregistered as a political party.

The FF Plus has argued for the best part of a year that the IEC made a grave mistake when it registered BLF as a political party in June 2016. South Africa’s post-apartheid electoral legislation stipulates that no registered political party may deny a person membership on the basis of race. The fact that BLF did not permit white members, said the FF Plus, was a clear contravention of this law.

The matter was initially ignored by the IEC until the FF Plus submitted a PAIA (Protection of Access to Information Act) request to receive more information regarding BLF’s initial registration. In March 2019, the IEC responded to the FF Plus to dismiss its complaint on the grounds that the commission lacked the jurisdiction to deregister BLF because no objections had been laid to BLF’s 2016 registration within the required 30-day period.

Off to the Electoral Court went the FF Plus, and in April a ruling was handed down. The court made no finding on the validity of BLF’s registration, however; it merely ruled that the IEC had failed to publish BLF’s registration in 2016 in the Government Gazette as was required. The electoral commission was duly ordered to publish the notice, some three years later, at which point the FF Plus could appeal against the decision.

By 6 May, with the elections two days away, the IEC had not yet published the necessary registration notice — meaning BLF was still free to participate in the election.

As it turned out, BLF would win just 19,796 votes in the final tally: not enough to secure a single National Assembly seat, though still ahead of the likes of the “Purple Cows” Capitalist Party and Agang SA. Mngxitama would blame everything from vote-rigging to biased media for his party’s results.

In July, the IEC finally considered the FF Plus’s objection to the registration of BLF. The IEC initially defended its decision to approve the registration on the grounds that the BLF constitution “did not expressly exclude white people from membership”.

In a somewhat comical turn of events, however, BLF itself confirmed in its response to the complaint that it did indeed ban white people from holding membership — leaving the IEC no choice but to uphold the FF Plus complaint and rule the registration of the BLF as unlawful and invalid.

In its appeal against the deregistration, BLF would attempt to argue that the concept of “black membership” should be understood in a more philosophical fashion. The Electoral Court was unmoved.

In a terse ruling handed down in Bloemfontein on 4 November, the Electoral Court ruled that BLF’s application to appeal its deregistration be refused “on the grounds that there are no reasonable prospects of success”.

Furthermore, ruled the court, “there is no other compelling reason why an appeal should be heard”.

With that two-sentence judgment, BLF can no longer be referred to as a political party.

BLF is free to continue to exist as a social movement or advocacy group, however — contrary to a statement put out by the organisation on Tuesday which claimed that BLF was now the proud bearer of the title of “the first movement to be banned since the ruse of majority rule”.

BLF also claimed that the ruling proved that “blackness is outlawed”.

The Electoral Court’s decision was greeted with jubilation by the FF Plus, with leader Pieter Groenewald stating:

The deregistration of the BLF as a political party is a victory for the whole of South Africa because racialism and intolerance, as was incited and encouraged by Mngxitama and his supporters, will not be tolerated.”

Groenewald also hailed the deregistration as a “victory for law and order”, but noted that it was “still disturbing that the IEC violated the law by registering the BLF as a political party in the first place”.

The DA welcomed the judgment too, with its IEC liaison Mike Moriarty condemning “parties or politicians who gain votes by stoking vicious hatred”.

BLF, meanwhile, has indicated that it will not be appealing against the judgment because it declines to subject itself further to “the kangaroo courts of white supremacy”.

In its post-ruling statement, BLF said it would be holding a special policy conference on 30 November in Durban to “chart the way forward”.

Elsewhere on its website, BLF is also appealing to the public for “financial assistance towards hosting the conference”. DM

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