South Africa


Ridiculous, ridiculouser, but still lucrative – Magashule’s 2024 poll entry and small parties’ appetite for power

Ridiculous, ridiculouser, but still lucrative – Magashule’s 2024 poll entry and small parties’ appetite for power
Ace Magashule at the launch of his new political party, the African Congress for Transformation, on Vilakazi Street in Soweto, 30 August 2023. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

Former ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule’s new political party is a foretaste of the many new political groups that will be contesting the 2024 elections. While a number of small parties have disappeared off the electoral map, in a system where they can have an outsized role in councils and Parliament, there will always be an incentive for political figures to form new parties, their track records be damned.

Ace Magashule, the man who said he would “live and die in the ANC”, last week announced he was forming the African Congress for Transformation (ACT)

It is not clear what Magashule can offer his prospective voters. He has said that he wants to fight corruption, but he himself faces criminal charges relating to the State Capture years in the Free State. The entire nation has seen the evidence against him, as it was detailed at the Zondo Commission and in the works of Pieter-Louis Myburgh, among others.

Joining the ACT will be the disgraced former Zuma-era head of the Hawks Mthandazo Berning Ntlemeza as the head of the party in the Eastern Cape.

In 2015, Ntlemeza was appointed as head of the Hawks by the then police minister Nkosinathi Nhleko. At the time, this writer suggested it was an “absurd appointment”, as a judge had found that Ntlemeza was “biased and dishonest … lacks integrity and honour, and made false statements under oath”.

Op-Ed: Ntlemeza’s appointment as head of the Hawks is absurd

Ntlemeza was forced out of the job in 2017. Judging by that, the ACT may face an uphill battle to convince voters that it is serious about fighting corruption, or anything else. 

Many parties in South Africa that have been formed by someone with a media profile have disappeared off the map.

The Black First Land First party, led by Andile Mngxitama, was able to garner huge publicity from around 2016 because of its claim that white people should be thrown out of the country.

But the party also focused on defending then president Jacob Zuma and received money from the British “reputation” agency Bell Pottinger to do so.

Ahead of the 2019 election, this party probably received more media attention than any other small party.

And yet, it received only 19,796 out of the 17,437,379 votes cast nationally in that election.

Another smaller party that had more organisational support did not do much better.

The Socialist Revolutionary Workers Party (SRWP), backed by the trade union Numsa, won only 24,439 votes. An attempt by Daily Maverick at the time to ask its leader, Irvin Jim, why it did not receive more support despite being backed by the biggest union in the country met with no response. (It emerged in 2022 that the New Frame founder, Roy Singham, had also strongly financially supported the SRWP. — Ed)

At the same time, it appears that some people are claiming to represent or even lead smaller parties, but are really fighting the ANC’s internal battles.

In 2019, at the Elections Results Centre in Tshwane, Adil Nchabeleng (who is often described as an energy expert but is more of a politician) was part of an attempt led by the then African Transformation Movement’s Mzwanele Manyi to claim, without evidence, the election results had been rigged. Nchabeleng was there as a member of another smaller party which received a very small number of votes.

But he had threatened, in January 2018, as the leader of an organisation called “Transform RSA”, to go to court to stop the ANC’s National Executive Committee from making a decision to remove Zuma as President.

It is unlikely that Nchabeleng is the only person who has used the platform afforded by ostensibly belonging to a small party to fight battles in the ANC.

A voice for all parties

One of the reasons so many small parties emerge into public view during elections is that media organisations feel everyone should be heard.

The broadcasters are compelled by law to provide proportionate coverage to all the parties in Parliament. This is supposed to be based on their share of the vote in the last election. In practice, it means that smaller parties probably get more airtime than they should, just because they are given a chance to speak at all (there would be no point in trying to conduct an interview with a one-seat party in just 15 seconds).

Then there are parties that have entered an election as new entrants and have been able make an impact.

The African Transformation Movement had to shake off claims that it was created by Magashule. But it appears to have been able to make an impact in Parliament, despite the fact that its main agenda appears to be to oppose President Cyril Ramaphosa at every turn and in every forum.

However, simply by being available for interviews and through cogent arguments (and Ramaphosa’s own missteps) and its base in a religious organisation, there is a strong chance its members will retain their seats in next year’s poll.

But other parties, such as Patricia de Lille’s Good, may suffer because they have not been able to create a distinct political identity. De Lille’s decision to join the Cabinet may well count against her party with voters.

This points to what may be the biggest problem facing Magashule: He will have to conduct a sustained campaign to create a distinct identity for himself.

There are already signs he will find this difficult. First, the party’s name, the African Congress for Transformation, and its colours and logo are clearly based on the identities of the ANC and the SACP.

Then, in his first address as leader of his party, Magashule spent much time commenting on the ANC, rather than outlining his own vision for the future.

Proven liars welcome

But probably the biggest problem he will have is that there is no evidence of widespread backing for him, and no people with a proven track record in politics risking their careers to stand behind him.

This means that he will be the only person able to speak for his party. And his choice of Ntlemeza is bound to lead to much commentary about proven liars being welcome in his party.

All of that said, the very structure of our politics is almost designed to lead to the creation of many small parties.

As we have seen in Joburg, where Al Jama-ah has been able to win the mayoralty with just three seats, or in Ekurhuleni where the mayor, Sivuyile Ngodwana, is from the ATM, it is possible to have a huge influence by controlling just one or two seats.

This kind of power may become possible in provincial legislatures or even in the National Assembly next year. And, unfortunately, having a track record as a corrupt liar is not necessarily going to prevent this. 

In Maluti-a-Phofung in the Free State, the former chief operating officer of the SABC, Hlaudi Motsoeneng, created the African Content Movement. 

Despite his claims that he is divine — he once said, “I believe in myself. I believe everywhere that I am I do miracles” — his party was able to win only two seats.

But these two seats were enough to hold the balance of power in a council divided between the ANC and all of the other parties.

It confirmed that someone who is surely corrupt is still able to play an important political role.

This suggests that despite the odds being against Magashule winning large-scale support, he could still end up playing an important role in our politics. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Ian Gwilt says:

    Very depressing

  • Johan Buys says:

    Prediction engine : this will be the last election that the ANC alliance (the exile ANC + COSATU + SACP + old UDF) exists.

  • Cape Doctor says:

    ACT!!! What a pair of vrot tomatoes. And as for the name…. the only reference I know of where the word “Congress” can apply to two people is the Kama Sutra.

  • William Dryden says:

    Surely anyone who is under investigation for looting municipal coffers should not be able to start a political party.?

  • Carsten Rasch says:


  • Magashule is hungry for Power, whereas he failed to Free State community instead of changing the lives of the people by removing the asbestos he decided to pocketed the money then he refused to take responsibility of Corruption he committed. His Party will not last longer because it was formed under anger, instead of resolving his battles with the ANC leadership, i don’t see that party surviving.

  • Steven Burnett says:

    Nothing parties are a waste of everyone’s time. There should be a higher barrier to entry to get on the ballot paper. A popular method of an emerging party getting votes is to try and confuse the seemingly (obviously?) blind ANC supporters. Pick a TLA and start it with an A.
    There were 48 parties on the last general election ballot, the first 16 started with the letter A. They are not even alphabetical within the A, because those who tried too hard to be right next to the ANC got moved away by a draw.

    Not making this up!

  • Daniel Cohen says:

    Perhaps these one man parties are after power, but it seems to me more likely that it’s the salary they’re after.
    And I agree strongly with the view that barriers to entry should be much higher – these political mites add nothing, or have a negative effect on governance at all levels of government

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