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ROAD TO 2024 ELECTIONS

Dirty tricks – poster wars spark intimidation and sabotage allegations ahead of SA’s May 29 polls

Dirty tricks – poster wars spark intimidation and sabotage allegations ahead of SA’s May 29 polls
South African 2024 election posters. illustrative image. (Design: Bogosi Monnakgotla; Images: Freepik, Facebook, X, Wikipedia and Neo Robertson)

The path to the May 29 polls is proving to be a rocky one. The gloves are off, with SA’s political parties accusing one another of poster theft, acts of physical violence and intimidation, and much more.

With the elections less than six weeks away, bad blood and allegations of dirty tricks are swirling between political parties.

From verbal altercations to physical bust-ups, the 2024 election season looks likely to get ever nastier – with allegations of sabotage now heating up between parties.

A number of political parties told Daily Maverick this week that their campaign posters are being deliberately removed, damaged or pasted over by rivals. Others say their party activists have been targeted with more extreme hostility.

The Democratic Alliance’s (DA’s) Ashor Sarupen during the DA alternative budget to rescue South Africa at the Marks Building on 19 February 2024 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Misha Jordaan)

‘Tens of thousands’ of posters stolen – DA

“The DA has been on the receiving end of major poster vandalism and theft,” DA deputy federal campaign manager Ashor Sarupen told Daily Maverick. The MP estimates, on the basis of a tracking system employed by the party to monitor posters, that “tens of thousands” of DA posters have vanished so far this election season.

Limpopo appears to be a major site of poster theft. Sarupen said that the party had evidence that about 100 posters were taken down in Ephraim Mogale municipality in the province on the evening of 16 April. In Mogalakwena municipality, also in Limpopo, the DA claims that about 150 posters were removed in the past week.

A photograph, sent by the DA, appearing to show a contractor replacing a DA poster with an ANC poster on a street pole in Ekurhuleni, Gauteng. (Photo: Supplied)

(Photo: Supplied)

Read more in Daily Maverick: Elections 2024 – All your questions answered

When asked whether the DA has knowledge of which parties are responsible for these acts, Sarupen sent Daily Maverick a photograph that appears to show a contractor taking down a DA poster on a street pole in order to replace it with an ANC poster. Sarupen also provided a picture, which he says shows “DA posters dumped under a tree in Soweto right after the EFF had put up street pole banners”.

Sarupen claims: “The biggest offenders are the ANC and the EFF.”

Leader of the Freedom Front Plus Dr Pieter Groenewald speaks at the party’s national election manifesto launch at the Heartfelt Arena on 2 March 2024 in Pretoria, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Rapport / Elizabeth Sejake)

Freedom Front Plus (FF+) leader Pieter Groenewald told Daily Maverick that the FF+ has had a “big problem” with both the removal and vandalising of its posters, particularly in North West. The culprits? The DA, says the party.

“In Klerksdorp, we had proof that it was the DA that removed our posters. We contacted them and their excuse was that it was the contractor of the DA that removed them. Fact is, the DA is responsible, and we agreed, if it happens again, we will lay criminal charges with the IEC [Electoral Commission of South Africa] for contravention of the Code of Conduct,” Groenewald said.

Rise Mzansi supporters picket for a tax relief for mothers before the 2024 Budget Speech at Cape Town City Hall, 21 February 2024. (Photo: Shelley Christians)

Rise Mzansi volunteers intimidated

New political outfit Rise Mzansi, meanwhile, has pointed the finger at the DA and the ANC for similar acts.

Rize Mzansi spokesperson Mabine Seabe told Daily Maverick that the party has had problems with disappearing posters “particularly in ANC and DA strongholds”.

Seabe said: “In places like Gauteng, the Eastern Cape and the Western Cape, our posters go missing en masse. In Mpumalanga, they have been burnt. In Joburg, Tshwane and Drakenstein, the law enforcement authorities have interfered with the work of putting up posters.”

But Seabe said the acts of intimidation against some organisers were a greater concern to the party.

“One of our elderly volunteers in the Eastern Cape had the door of his home broken down, with the words ‘F*&$k RISE’ written on it. He was also hit over the head.”

Rise Mzansi also says some party activists in Gauteng and Mpumalanga have received threatening SMSes and phone calls.

Tensions between Rise Mzansi and the DA have spiked in recent days since the DA’s mass dissemination of an SMS criticising the Rise Mzansi stance on land expropriation. DA leader John Steenhuisen has also referred to new opposition parties such as Rise Mzansi as both “political mercenaries” and “popcorn parties” that wish to loot the Western Cape – which Seabe dismissed as “cheap politicking and campaigning”.

In another low ebb for political civility, Good party leader Patricia de Lille, addressing a Johannesburg campaign event this week, accused Steenhuisen of sounding like “a second-hand car salesman or a salesman that was selling dog shampoo because that is what he used to do before”.

Good spokesperson Brett Herron told Daily Maverick that the party had also lost about 10,000 posters over the past month, in effect “eradicating” Good’s poster coverage.

“The sabotage and vandalism includes turning the front of the poster away from the line of sight, breaking the poster board or ripping the poster from its backing board,” Herron said.

“It is interesting that it is new parties, who have been calling for a new kind of politics, whose posters have gone up after ours. Elections are not won on posters and so it’s disappointing that competitor parties, especially those who advocate a new kind of politics in South Africa, could be engaged in this kind of petty sabotage and criminality.”

Violence in KwaZulu-Natal

In KwaZulu-Natal, meanwhile, the contestation between Jacob Zuma’s MK party and the ANC has reportedly turned violent on a number of occasions, with both parties blaming the other for the instigation.

The ANC did not respond to Daily Maverick’s request for comment, but MK party spokesperson Nhlamulo Ndhlela claimed the party had been repeatedly discriminated against in ANC-led municipalities. Ndhlela said municipal officers were illegally ripping down MK posters, “citing by-laws which are nonexistent” and blocking the MK party from booking public venues for gatherings.

Mosotho Moepya, IEC

Electoral Commission of SA chairperson Mosotho Moepya. (Photo: Gallo Images / Netwerk24 / Deaan Vivier)

Hefty consequences

Earlier this month, the IEC warned all political parties against inciting violence, intimidation or abusing positions of power ahead of the 29 May polls.

Parties contesting the national elections signed the Electoral Code of Conduct, which binds them to campaign fairly to ensure a “peaceful electoral environment”, at the Gallagher Convention Centre in Johannesburg on 4 April.

“Certain behaviours, such as inciting violence, intimidation, spreading false information or abusing positions of power are strictly prohibited and must be met with swift accountability measures,” said IEC chairperson Mosotho Moepya.

“Upholding the provisions of the Electoral Code of Conduct reinforces democratic values such as tolerance, respect for diversity and the peaceful resolution of disputes.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Explainer: How the IEC will fight disinformation and keep errant parties in line during polls

“These values are essential for the functioning of a healthy democracy, and for fostering trust between citizens and their elected representatives.”

The code became enforceable after the election date was announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa. If a political party or independent breaches the code, they can be fined up to R200,000, ordered to give up their election deposit or stopped from working in an area. They can have their votes in an area cancelled or have their party registration cancelled. Any person who breaks the code can also be sentenced to up to 10 years’ imprisonment.

Daily Maverick sent questions to the IEC, but did not receive a response by the time of publication. DM

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

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Daily Maverick has closed comments on all elections articles for the next two weeks. While we do everything in our power to ensure deliberately false, misleading and hateful commentary does not get published on our site, it’s simply not possible for our small team to have sight of every comment. Given the political dynamics of the moment, we cannot risk malignant actors abusing our platform to manipulate and mislead others. We remain committed to providing you with a platform for dynamic conversation and exchange and trust that you understand our need for circumspection at this sensitive time for our country.

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