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IEC suspends National Freedom Party from contesting polls due to factionalism, leadership tussles

IEC suspends National Freedom Party from contesting polls due to factionalism, leadership tussles
(Graphic: Wikipedia)

The Electoral Commission of South Africa has suspended the National Freedom Party from participating in the 2024 elections, calling on it to resolve its factionalism issues and elect legitimate leadership by March if it wants to take part. If it fails, the party may not survive.

The future of the National Freedom Party (NFP) hangs in the balance once again as two party factions fight for supremacy.

There has been an ongoing tussle for power within the NFP, resulting in the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) barring the party from contesting by-elections and threatening to ban it from participating in the 2024 general elections unless it sorts out its leadership squabbles and appoints a legitimate leader.

The IEC recently told the NFP it has until March 2024 to sort out its issues.

On Monday, IEC spokesperson Kate Bapela told Daily Maverick the IEC had suspended its interactions with the NFP as it related to “accepting the nomination of candidates for by-elections; disbursing funds from the party funding purse where they qualify for such, and; interacting with the party through Party Liaison Committee structures”.

Bapela continued: “The NFP has taken their leadership dispute to court and the court ordered the party structure to resolve the national leadership question by electing a National Executive Committee. To the best of our knowledge, the party has to date not held such an election.

“A few provincial NFP structures have attempted to contest by-elections by insisting that the party has complied with the court order. Until such time as the Electoral Commission has clarity on the NFP national leadership, as per the court order, our current position towards the party will remain.”

The NFP was formed in 2011 just months before the local government elections, when a faction led by Zanele kaMagwaza-Msibi split from the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP). The formation of the NFP had further diluted the IFP’s support base.

In the 2011 municipal elections, the NFP received 2.4% of the votes cast nationally and 10.4% of the votes cast in KwaZulu-Natal.

It won a majority of seats in the eDumbe Local Municipality and was the leading party in the hung Nongoma Local Municipality which saw the NFP enter into an agreement to co-govern with the ANC.

In the 2014 general elections, the NFP garnered about 1.57% of the national vote and won six seats in the National Assembly. After those polls, kaMagwaza-Msibi was appointed to the position of deputy minister of science and technology by then president Jacob Zuma.

However, the party was dealt a blow when one of its administrators failed to pay registration fees that would have allowed it to contest the 2016 local government elections. Some party insiders suspect that the administrator was paid by the party’s enemies to deliberately sabotage its prospects.

This happened at the time party leader kaMagwaza-Msibi suffered a debilitating stroke. On 6 September 2021, shortly before the 2021 municipal elections, she died of cardiac arrest.

Mounting challenges

In June 2023, the IEC revealed that it was withholding more than R15-million in quarterly disbursements to three political parties represented in the National Assembly.

The amounts involved were: R6,946,664 withheld from the African Independence Congress; R6,038,810 from the National Freedom Party; and R2,237,599 from the Congress of the People. This was after the three parties failed to comply with the Political Party Funding Act, which required that they account for disbursements through the provision of financial statements.

The IEC’s Mawethu Mosery said it was unfortunate that the agency had been forced to take such drastic action because of divisions within the NFP, where factions were claiming supremacy and calling themselves the legitimate leadership of the NFP.

He said he hoped the party would sort out its leadership squabbles well before the 2024 general elections so that it could participate.

Zakhele Ndlovu, a senior political lecturer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said if the ban extended to the 2024 general elections, it would spell the end of the NFP as a viable political party.

“It is sad what is happening to the NFP, especially because it was one of those parties that started very strongly and with significant political support. Now the party is struggling to survive.

“It is one of those parties that cannot survive without the party founder. It is in a similar position as the Minority Front, which could not survive the death of its founding leader Amichand Rajbansi… after his death, you never hear anything about his party.

“I don’t see the two political factions within the NFP agreeing on anything, including leadership positions, so it would be difficult to sort out their differences before the next election,” Ndlovu said.

Independent elections analyst Wayne Sussman said the breakup of the NFP would be a blow to many voters in KZN as the party was strong in eDumbe, KwaNongoma, Ukhahlamba District Municipality and Inkosi Langalibalele District.

Canaan Mdletshe, NFP secretary general, said the party was working on solutions to its problems, including issues such as leadership. He said he hoped everything would be resolved within the next few weeks. DM


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