South Africa


IEC must act urgently against threats of electoral violence in SA

IEC must act urgently against threats of electoral violence in SA
Supporters during the uMkhonto Wesizwe (MK) party march to Durban City Hall on 1 March 2024 in Durban. (Photo: Gallo Images / Darren Stewart) | Former president Jacob Zuma addresses supporters of the MK party at Alexandra Stadium, 7 February 2024, Johannesburg. (Photo: Gallo Images / City Press / Tebogo Letsie)

Jacob Zuma’s MK party is making escalating threats of violence if it does not get its way at the polls. It is not the only party to be accused of intimidation and thuggery this election season. Yet the IEC is silent. Why?

“Die Cyril, die!”

“We are sending a loud and clear message to the ANC that if these courts, which are sometimes captured, if they stop MK, there will be anarchy in this country. There will be riots like you’ve never seen in this country. There will be no elections. No South Africans will go to the polls.”

“[If the MK party is not allowed to contest elections and win a two-thirds majority] … We are going to close South Africa for good.”

“Comrades, we have two options: either we submit, or we fight… If it means that we must attack [the IEC], I’ll come to you.”

These statements were all made recently by representatives of Jacob Zuma’s uMkhonto Wesizwe (MK) party.

They have been uttered in public and shared widely on social media — including by Saftu leader Zwelinzima Vavi, who tweeted on Monday: “Ignore the now consistent threats to plunge the country into chaos at your own peril.”

Among the videos Vavi drew attention to was one which appears to have since been deleted from TikTok, but which shows a man wearing an MK shirt firing a pistol into the hills — after which the camera pans to a table laden with shotguns and assault rifles, while the man recording the scene chuckles.

This may be posturing. But the link between the MK party and violence is not hypothetical. In January, a sizeable portion of the 65 men and women accused of instigating the July 2021 riots in KwaZulu-Natal arrived in court wearing the regalia of the MK party.

That unrest, if anyone needs a reminder, left at least 342 people dead within just a few days.

At least one life has thus far been lost to the violent tides swirling around Zuma’s new political outfit: MK party organiser Vusimuzi Ntuli was gunned down in an Umlazi hostel at the beginning of March.  

There is little reason to believe that this will be the sole death.

Tribalism wounds

Once again, none of this is happening behind closed doors. The MK party has been openly stoking old tribalism wounds: in early February, Zuma was reported to have referred contemptuously to KwaZulu-Natal residents who could speak Tswana.

Just a few days ago, the DA’s student wing, Daso, laid a criminal charge against members of the MK party after Daso activists manning an information table at the uMgungundlovu TVET were allegedly intimidated by MK members.

The ANC, too, has reportedly registered a grievance with the Electoral Commission (IEC) over intimidation towards voters during KwaZulu-Natal by-elections. In February, City Press reported that “nearly 40 incidents of intimidation between the ANC and the MKP have been recorded since the latter was formed”.

The threats don’t just run in one direction in South Africa’s perennial political powder keg, KwaZulu-Natal. Videos circulating on social media appear to show MK members being assaulted by ANC supporters. An MK official alleged in February that some party supporters had to be hospitalised following run-ins with gun-toting ANC goons during KZN by-elections.

It is not alarmist to suggest that these developments should deeply concern us all, less than three months before the most hotly contested elections in South Africa’s democratic history.

Although the MK party has been shockingly direct in its public threats, there have been unnerving indications elsewhere that violence is in the air.

The DA complained to the IEC in early February after men in Patriotic Alliance (PA) shirts bore assault rifles at a voter registration station in Eerste River in the Western Cape.

The PA claimed that the men were part of party leader Gayton McKenzie’s standard security detail. That may be so, but one good reason to be concerned about the optics of PA figures toting powerful firearms is the credible allegations of the links between the PA and some of SA’s most notorious gangs.

(For an illustration of what can happen when gangsters coordinate to seek political power, see the currently unfolding catastrophe in Haiti.)

Over the same voter registration weekend in February, it was also reported that EFF members at a Limpopo voting station were singing “Shoot to kill”.

Pictures from the EFF’s February manifesto launch at Durban’s Moses Mabhida Stadium showed the EFF secretary-general, Marshall Dlamini, addressing a phalanx of camouflage-clad members of what the party calls its “internal security team”, but which looks a lot like a private militia.

One question burns more urgently than any other: Where is the IEC on this issue?

A scan of the IEC’s recent media statements shows no mention of threats of political violence, or reference to the outcomes of the various grievances apparently laid with the body.   

But the Electoral Code of Conduct, to which all contesting political parties subscribe, makes it an offence for parties to use language which provokes violence, to intimidate candidates or voters, or to carry arms or weapons at political meetings, marches or rallies.

All of the above has happened and is happening this election season. By violating the Electoral Code of Conduct, parties are flirting with disqualification from the polls. This would be a radical step which itself, unfortunately, carries the risk of consequent violence — and for that reason cannot be undertaken lightly.

But if ever there was a time for the IEC to step up and lay down the law to the thugs endangering South Africa’s precious democratic process, it is now. There is, quite literally, everything at stake. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Graeme de Villiers says:

    Powerful and terrifying visions, of when the chosen few are denied their ‘right’ to rule, they take it upin themselves to maintain that right, by whichever means necessary.
    This is going to be an interesting ride.

    • Kenneth FAKUDE says:

      Graeme I am worried we will have a similar situation like post 1994 when the following words that ecco in my mind were issued by Mandela: As president of the African National Congress I have permission to shoot not just to shoot but shoot to kill!!
      I wonder if we still have the same caliber of leaders who take decisive steps when a situation deems so.
      It is common knowledge how the state was hollowed out during state capture, and the former president was so terminally ill he could not stay in jail, here we are now about to witness violence and destruction for what?
      It is definitely not about improving the lives of the poor but to get leadership positions to get hands on the almost dry treasury pot.

      • Malcolm McManus says:

        I have always been of the opinion that the long walk to freedom was nothing more than a vessel for the ANC rulers to become just what they are today. A bunch of self enriching, self entitled plunderers. The MK off shoots are just the same. Democracy was just a banner under which the comrades campaigned, in order to achieve power and then just wipe their feet with the same banner once they were in power. The long walk to freedom was a mythical fairytale. It was never about the people. Just about the select few. True Democracy is not an African thing.

      • Johan Buys says:

        Kenneth : it is wrong to quote that shoot to kill in this context. The back story is 1994 or 1995 when IFP was massing on Luthuli House. That is exactly what South Africans did and will do if MK takes to the streets. In 2021 there was limited armed reaction, across the political spectrum. If they try that stunt again in 2024 they will encounter a very different response.

        What Zuma is threatening is quite different – go out and kill. Mandela said shoot to kill when attacked. And he was right.

  • Kevin Venter says:

    Why am I completely unsurprised by this very article. The more things change, the more they stay the same. The inevitable descent into violence and intimidation to manipulate the output of a vote. Where have we seen and heard that before in Africa?
    The very definition of insanity… doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome.

  • Ben Harper says:

    It is as expected. At the very least there will be a repeat of the pre ’94 election violence between the IFP and ANC, that much is guaranteed except this time it will be MK vs eff vs anc

  • Garth Mason says:

    Thanks for this article Rebecca, truly alarming.

  • Agf Agf says:

    The fable of the scorpion and the frog springs to mind. You know:”it’s my nature”.

  • Smanga Z says:

    Well, what have we here. A party led by a corrupt, homophonic tribalist. What did you expect?

  • Dennis Bailey says:

    And all this from an old geyser with nothing to lose since he’s on his death bed anyway. The party is not even registered yet.

  • Brian Cotter says:

    “But if ever there was a time for the IEC to step up and lay down the law to the thugs endangering South Africa’s precious democratic process, it is now.”
    IEC, where are you?
    President Cyril where are you?

  • Denise Smit says:

    The MK , EFF and PA use posturing, threats of violence, intimidation in their general way of doing so, yet the EFF says it will do this and this to make SA safe in its manifesto. Who do they fool?

    • Roelf Pretorius says:

      Apparently they are successful in fooling the public. So we have to become more circumspect and not believe all the nonsense that politicians come forward with.

  • Kim Collyer says:

    I watched trucks burn and heard the gunfire in my home town during the KZN riots. This is so scary.

  • Greg Deegan says:

    The underlying threat here is “KwaZulu independence.”
    This is obviously Zuma and his crony’s aim. For starters!
    Perhaps this needs looking into.

    • ST ST says:

      Absolutely Zuma inc. I’ll be surprised if even a quarter of the Zulus supports him. Lots of crazy criminals with nothing to lose also take advantage as in 2021. Selfish to put the country through civil war after all this time. ANC fault for emboldening JZ. They should dealt with this. It should have never come to this. God help SA

    • Kel Varnsen says:

      That sounds great – KZN can have its independence …

  • M E says:

    Allowing any party to RULE is dangerous. Their job is to GOVERN, but somehow we South Africans forgot the meanings of these two very different words. And in turn, allowing ourselves to be subjects to people with a king/queen mentality. These are public SERVANTS and WE are their kings. Don’t get fooled, the “elite” care nothing for their subjects. Stop giving corrupt people power!

  • mike van wyk says:

    MK is formally a military veterans association. Although MK as a militia group was de-mustered (laid down weapons, accepted compensation or were absorbed into the SANDF) formally by a process overseen by a British intermediately, it never did in fact accepted that process and remains a threat to democratic order. Zuma’s association with the fledgling MK Party is not surprising as he was instrumental in forming the militia group MK. If the MK Party is successful in KZN (an ANC stronghold under Zuma) and undermines support for the ANC and forms a collision with the EFF, then the outlook for SA for the next decade is bleak to say the least.
    The implications for the destabilising factor both MK Party and EFF pose will further deter fix capital investment and motivate capital flight. Added to this is the ANC’s meddling in international affairs far outside its league which could further impact trade agreements and existing investments in the motor industry.

  • Geoff Coles says:

    The IEC is awaiting instructions from Luthuli House and its President

  • Just Me says:

    There is a very real risk this election for violence and a repeat of the 2021 looting and riots due to the immaturity of SA’s political parties and politicians, like the ANC, EFF and MK.

    The 2021 riots and looting showed some politicians and citizens, like the Zuma clan, to be positively treasonous the way they went about inciting violence and looting.

    The ANC has also shown itself to be particularly vindictive in the way the party deals with national, provincial and local level allocation of budgets and funding. For example, for many years in KZN in particular, the ANC under-allocated budget to IFP and DA controlled towns.

    These immature acts show that SA is not quite ready for impartial democracy.

    What does not help is the ANC’s policies of party first, vote buying patronage employment in the state entities, BEE and cadre deployment where competence is not a pre-requisite for key jobs.

  • George Olivier says:

    Seems like a good time for politicians to lose their ego’s and do the right thing. Time for the ANC to collude with the DA??

    • Roelf Pretorius says:

      Yes – but I would not want them to collude, they have to come out in the open about what they are discussing so the public can say what they think about it

  • Roger Mellie says:

    MK is not even registered yet and I suspect it is so disorganised it will fail to do so.

  • T'Plana Hath says:

    “You may pronounce us guilty a thousand times over, but the Goddess of the Eternal Court of History will smile and tear to tatters the brief of the State Prosecutor and the sentence of this court, for She acquits us.” – Frankie Goes To Hollywood, 𝘛𝘸𝘰 𝘛𝘳𝘪𝘣𝘦𝘴, 1984
    (Also, Adolf Hitler, 𝘉𝘦𝘦𝘳 𝘏𝘢𝘭𝘭 𝘗𝘶𝘵𝘴𝘤𝘩 𝘛𝘳𝘪𝘢𝘭, 1924. There was also a remix by Castro ft. MC Cuba Libre, in ’53, “La historia me absolverá” … but I don’t really go in for Latin music …)

  • Brendan Temple says:

    It’s incredible how one man can cause such pain and suffering in South Africa. I suppose Hitler was one man!

  • David Crossley says:

    Jacob Zuma has been a political fly in the ointment ever since he was proclaimed President and trouble seems to follow him wherever he goes. I sincerely hope that reason prevails leading up to the elections and that any attempts at violence are quickly neutralised. What a troubled country (And World!) we currently inhabit……

  • Norman Sander says:

    In 94, the Reserve Force Regiments were the ones who came to the fore to ensure free and fair elections. Peter Dickens has written extensively on this in his blog “The Observation Post”.
    This time around, the Reserve Force Regiments have very few previous conscripts in them, besides the name changes etc, ensuring that the ANC now controls those Regiments.
    The only I could think of to try and allay some of the threat is to ensure no Zulu soldiers or Police Personnel are allowed anywhere near the polling stations in KZN.
    As for the rest of the populace, the poor will watch and take advantage of any disorder to loot and those with property and businesses should take the necessary steps to ensure the safety of those and their families.
    But of course, my suggestions will not happen as the ANC adopts a wait and see attitude, before doing nothing substantial about it.

  • Confucious Says says:

    Ah… so that’s who stole the ammo and the communications equipment in the 2021 lootings! solved for the NPA (I’ll send you my invoice).

  • Bob Fraser says:

    Bob March 6th 2024 at 15:11
    Who are the individuals comprising the IRC and to which political party are they affiliated. To whom do they account. Surely someone must oversee them and when they ignore complaints which have been made as they appear to have done now who is responsible to take action againstthem. Does the wonderful, effecient justice system not have the authority to do something about it?

  • Peter Worman says:

    One of the more destructive tools used by modern day African leaders is to invoke tribal images among their supporters. This has occurred not just in African but all over the world where the poor and marginalised have fought against this oppression largely through violence. It has been said for example that France has never recovered from the French revolution and the same goes for Russia. We all need to collectively move forward but we need credible leaders to affect this and sadly there’s a serious dearth of honest and ethical leaders. And sadly, evil prevails when good people do nothing

  • Matthew Quinton says:

    Xhosa vs Zulu
    Hutu vs Tutsi
    Irish vs Northern Irish
    Sunni vs Shia
    Protestant vs Catholic

    Etc etc etc….

    Yawn! People can be so boringly stupid. So much wasted energy with zero advantage for anyone involved.

    Why can’t we just build schools and focus all this energy on raising the standard of living instead of risking life and limb for some BS intangible and transient ideology?

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