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Countdown to May 29 polls – SA’s political contest heats up after some parties cast doubt on IEC

Countdown to May 29 polls – SA’s political contest heats up after some parties cast doubt on IEC
Clockwise from top left: The Freedom Front Plus’ Pieter Groenewald, the ACDP’s Reverend Kenneth Raselabe, ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa, the IFP’s Velenkosini Hlabisa, EFF commander-in-chief Julius Malema, ActionSA’s Herman Mashaba, the PA’s Gayton McKenzie, the DA’s John Steenhuisen, Rise Mzansi’s Songezo Zibi. (Photo montage: Jocelyn Adamson | Photos: Joyrene Kramer and Shelley Christians)

DA sets the cat among the pigeons by calling on Western governments to send out teams to verify the upcoming 29 May polls, but Good party denounces ‘conspiracy theory’ against the Electoral Commission of SA, which has safeguarded voting throughout South Africa’s 30 years of democracy.

There are fewer than 80 days to South Africa’s much-anticipated provincial and national elections, and the political contest is heating up.

Coalition government is now the likely outcome. This led to a national dialogue, facilitated by Deputy President Paul Mashatile in August 2023, to put ground rules in place for forming coalitions.

Daily Maverick’s flagship event, The Gathering, on 14 March gave South Africans a glimpse of what could happen if the country ends up with a coalition government.

Read more in Daily Maverick: The Gathering 2024

Multi-Party Charter (MPC) partners, on a mission to topple the ANC, showed cracks. ActionSA leader Herman Mashaba used strong words when he said he was not in the business of building trust and friendships but of saving the country from the ANC.

When his turn came, DA leader John Steenhuisen preached teamwork.

Read more in Daily Maverick: SA gets a glimpse of a Multi-Party Charter coalition post the May elections and it’s not pretty

Political commentator and lecturer Dr Rekgotsofetse Chikane said that if political parties’ cultures were based on winner-takes-all, the crisis in the once glorious city of Joburg would happen everywhere else.

Joburg is facing deteriorating infrastructure, a lack of service delivery and, most recently, water outages.

“The crisis in Joburg is not about people who do not know how to govern with each other; the crisis is that someone wants to be the leader at all [costs]. That is a power game and is not for the benefit of the people.”

The Gathering Twenty Twenty-Four Election Edition panel at Cape Town International Convention Centre, 14 March 2024. (Photo: Shelley Christians)

Although the focus has been largely on the possibility of the ruling party losing its majority, parties such as the DA may also face declines in electoral support.

The emergence of parties such as Rise Mzansi, Build One South Africa, ActionSA and, to some extent, Gayton McKenzie’s Patriotic Alliance pose a threat to the DA as these parties are vying for the same pool of voters.

the gathering gayton mckenzie

Gayton McKenzie during The Gathering Twenty Twenty-Four Election Edition panel at the Cape Town International Convention Centre on 14 March 2024. (Photo: Shelley Christians)

President Cyril Ra­­ma­­­­phosa remains a popular and likeable figure in the ANC and, as Daily Maverick’s Ferial Haffajee puts it, his face is carrying the ANC.

Chikane said he did not see the ANC losing its majority come 29 May. “It’s a monumental fall,” he said. “From 57% to under 50% – no party has dropped like that. 2029 is our fight and the question is, what are the rules and regulations we want to put in place for that 2029 fight?”

coaliton active citizenry chikane

Rekgotsofetse Chikane during The Gathering Twenty Twenty-Four at the Cape Town International Convention Centre on 14 March 2024. (Photo: Shelley Christians)

It came as no surprise when the DA went into panic mode and asked the G7 governments – the US, the UK, Germany, France, Japan, Italy and Canada – as well as the EU and Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark for support with election observers, voter education and setting up a parallel vote tabulation (PVT) system.

A PVT would count the votes separately from the Electoral Commission of SA (IEC) to check for irregularities.

But there is no incontrovertible evidence that the IEC is compromised or that it cannot deliver a free and fair election.

The letter to foreign countries, written by the DA’s international relations spokesperson, Emma Powell, warns that the expected drop in the ANC’s national support to well below 50% for the first time – and its possible loss of some provinces – “presents both significant risks as well as opportunities”.

It notes that, “as the ruling elite grow more desperate to retain electoral support ahead of the upcoming elections, they may be willing to put their narrow political interests ahead of our country’s broader interests and sacred constitutional values”.

generation x vote registration

IEC CEO Sy Mamabolo. (Photo: Gallo Images / Netwerk24 / Deaan Vivier)

Both Powell and the IEC’s CEO, Sy Mamabolo, confirmed that there were talks about inviting observers to the country for the crunch elections. But what took Mamabolo by surprise was an invitation to governments of other countries.

“They [the DA] did indicate that within the Multi-Party Charter they intended to invite observer groups to the country, but what was not indicated to us [was that] the executive arm of state in another country was going to be invited to come.”

Mamabolo said more than 100 organisations had already been accredited, including international organisations.

“The commission does not have a dim view of observations. We encourage observation but it has to happen in the proper way. [According to] the established protocols … often it must be multilateral organisations such as the EU, the AU, SADC and related structures.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: Elections 2024

The IEC dismissed one of its employees this week after the leaking of the lists of candidates for the ANC and the new uMkhonto Wesizwe (MK) party backed by Jacob Zuma.

The commission ad­­mit­­ted that more than two lists had been downloaded, but only two had been leaked.

After the leaking of the ANC and MK lists, the chairperson of Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs, Mosa Chabane, said: “We remain of the view that the IEC is a credible institution to run a free and fair process and that anything that endangers this process will be quickly investigated and concomitant action taken.”

Despite the leak, Chabane said, the IEC’s processes remained credible and it had a proven track record of delivering on its mandate and promoting South Africa’s democratic order. The Department of Home Affairs also planned to receive an update on the investigation and on the processes in place for the elections.

The DA’s Powell told Daily Maverick that the party was not casting aspersions on the IEC, but it believed it was important to ensure that there was no room for error.

“The ANC is accusing the DA of selling the [country’s] sovereignty or, quoting the President, ‘mortgaging South Africa to the USA’.

“Never in my life have I heard something so intellectually dishonest. We are fulfilling our role as an opposition party in appealing to the international community. This is our right. We have not transgressed any law or any regulation,” she said.

the gathering hlabisa

Velenkosini Hlabisa during The Gathering Twenty Twenty-Four Election Edition panel at the Cape Town International Convention Centre on 14 March 2024. (Photo: Shelley Christians)

The DA’s Multi-Party Charter partners support the party’s move, and IFP leader Velenkosini Hlabisa expressed the need for international observers and emphasised that much is at stake. “The writing is on the wall that this is [the ANC’s] last term in government and they can do anything.”

However, Hlabisa said he did not believe that the ANC might not relinquish power if it were to lose the elections.

“This is a constitutional state, there is sufficient apparatus, and they willingly accepted when they lost at the municipal level, losing big metros.”

Herman Mashaba during The Gathering Twenty Twenty-Four Election Edition panel at the Cape Town International Convention Centre, 14 March 2024. (Photo: Shelley Christians)

ActionSA’s Herman Mashaba said he did not trust the IEC at all. The IEC had twice rejected the registration of his party because of its logo, which bore a resemblance to the South African flag.

“How can we trust them after what happened to us in 2021?” asked Mashaba. “It is for that reason that we want our observers… We don’t trust them but they have a constitutional responsibility to run free and fair elections.”

African Transformation Movement (ATM) leader Vuyo Zungula said the DA’s actions could not be justified because it was inappropriate to ask Western countries to be involved in the election as South Africa was a sovereign state.

“Our view is that the IEC has given an impression that there could be widespread irregularities when it comes to the management of elections and, if there was any concern, the proper channel would be to use institutions in the country, then SADC, then the AU.

“Perhaps NGOs and international organisations such as your United Nations and African Union would be justified if they would observe, [but not] individual countries that for us show that these countries want an SA that is subservient and used by powerful nations.

“We as the ATM would like a South Africa which is self-sustainable and is not a little brother to the G7 countries,” he said.

Good’s Brett Heron, a longtime councillor and incumbent MP, told Daily Maverick: “Yes, the IEC has established a credible track record for delivering generally credible elections which are free and fair … This has been recognised beyond our borders by the international community and confirmed by independent observers who have observed all of our democratic-era elections.”

Herron said although Good had previous “quibbles” with the IEC during July 2023’s hotly contested by-elections in George, “overall there is no evidence that the outcomes of elections have not been a true reflection of the majority of votes cast”.

Herron said Good believed the IEC was genuinely committed to ensuring free and fair elections and there was no evidence to support any doubt that the 2024 elections would also be free and fair.

“Anyone undermining the credibility of the IEC and our elections is engaging in dangerous disinformation and fomenting nothing more than conspiracy theories.

“Promoting Trump-inspired fake news about the foundational event of our democratic state – free and fair elections – is reckless, and those who promote a conspiracy theory like this should face harsh penalties,” he said.

“Confidence in our electoral process, and in the general integrity of the IEC, should not be a political plaything.”

Even after the recent leaking of its candidates list, the ANC reiterated its full confidence in the IEC’s “proven record of administering and overseeing free, fair and credible elections over the past three decades”.

In a statement, the ANC said the IEC continued to do so with “professionalism, impartiality and integrity, attributes which have also extended to the secure management of confidential information”.

Mbali Ntuli speaks during The Gathering Twenty Twenty-Four at the Cape Town International Convention Centre, 14 March 2024. (Photo: Shelley Christians)

Ground Work Collective (GWC) founder and CEO Mbali Ntuli recently created a campaign to help to register and train election observers. According to Ntuli, the GWC is accredited by the IEC, which allows people to log on to the organisation’s portal and volunteer to become election observers.

She said observers had been a cornerstone of the country’s democracy. “I think in the last two election cycles it has decreased, but I think now there is a resurgence of interest in politics and civic engagement. As we launched our election portal we have so far got a favourable response from people.”

Ntuli said she had faith in the IEC to deliver free and fair elections: “Even when there have been discrepancies they have managed to sort them out through the electoral court.” DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • ST ST says:

    I don’t think the panic and worry about the safety of the elections is unjustified on this occasion. Given the friends of the ruling party, the proven record of the unpunished JZ people, their current/recent utterances. Supporters of others parties are also guilty of threatening behaviour although lesser.

    This is a pivotal high stakes election. We know what can happen, outcomes in Africa and abroad… wars and coups.

    But deep down, maybe in denial, I think ‘SA is better than that’. But I remember thinking that before load shedding when I heard Nigeria suffered constant blackouts. So…

  • Gavin Knox says:

    Therein lies the problem, 30 years of control by the “ruling” politburo, if they were one bit impartial every ballot box would be clear plastic, as, funnily enough, is the Russian boxes, in this latest election farce or theirs, that way any pre placed re marked papers will be visible…..

    • Colin Braude says:

      *If* there are sufficient party agents/observers, the actual voting process is as good and transparent as it can be.

      In particular, before setting up the cardboard ballot boxes, the Presiding Office should demonstrate to all the agents & observers that the box is empty. It is then kept under surveillance until full, when it is sealed in the presence of the agents, who take note of the seal. Full ballot boxes do not leave the voting station until the count, which also happens under the surveillance of the agents. The results are agreed and each party agent records them (I am sure every party already has “parallel vote tabulation systems” to record the results, but these depend upon having an agent at every voting station — some 20+ thousand).

      • Gavin Knox says:

        If this protocol is even actually carried out.. maybe in some areas… but I seriously doubt it’s the norm in the masses where the fraud will happen.

  • Ruth Kellow says:

    Members of the IEC declared elections in Zimbabwe as free and fair, not surprising DA asking for observers

  • Paul Caiger says:

    I’m sure the communist ANC would have no problem if the Russians , Chinese or UAE were asked to be ‘observers’ , as they would turn a blind eye to the any shenanigans that benefited their lapdog I.e. their ANC subservient cadres. How many times have the elections in Zimbabwe been rigged by the ruling party….. and whose their best mate , again the ANC. Where the ANC goes there follows corruption , bribery , dishonesty and theft. The DA has the right to be concerned and bring in countries which respect the democratic process.

  • Paul Caiger says:

    Just a followup comment. I don’t doubt the integrity of the IEC , I think they have done a terrific job. My concern is if the ANC loses then they turn against the IEC and claim vote rigging etc… Foreign observers will help protect the IEC and the election outcomes.

  • Troy Marshall says:

    That foreign observation has become an issue is cause for concern. The ANC have corrupted institution after institution. We’d be fools to believe they wouldn’t corrupt the IEC now that their majority is under threat.

  • Johan Buys says:

    What kind of “emergency” would be offered as excuses to delay the 29 May election?

    National security situation arising from unrest and threats of violence, stoked by radical groups bent on upsetting our democratic transformation?

    An unfortunate, regrettable major election system failure / hack that could lead to lack of trust in the integrity of the voters role and external players manipulating the results of our election?

    An outbreak of a disease somewhere in the world means we go back to lockdown.

  • R IA says:

    Did the DA ‘go into panic mode’? I think they’re just doing what they believe best by asking for independent election monitoring. If the ANC and the IEC are honest and open, why wouldn’t they welcome it.

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