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.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • ST ST says:

    I fully expect the radicals to push the boundaries and test the resolve of the IEC and judiciaries. They’ve already seen it can work and nothing can be ‘proven’ or said to having any real world meaning…having something in black and white means nothing now.

    • Arthur Lilford says:

      Test the IEC Mmmm that is also a subtle arm of the cANCer – and toothless when it comes to taking the “Ruling Regime” to task

  • James Baxter says:

    I always to myself that democracy cannot come before economic development is fully put in place. It’s a chicken and egg conundrum. You have to have an elite pact. Elites sitting down and discussing between themselves on how to manage the country’s political economy in a non democratic process with a single goal in mind, to develop the country economically. That is what England, USA, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and China did . China’s economy is ripe for political reform but of course, the CCP has a firm grip on everything and they are not showing any signs of weakness. But African countries led by the special kid of them all, our beloved rainbow nation decided to flip the play book upside down and put the cart before the horse and literally play this horse trading game called electioneering. You had Codesa, I don’t know what you discussed there, but it is clear that whatever you discussed was not rational. I mean, I sound like a real nut job, but really someone has to start cleaning up your mess now. I am prepared to clean it up because it is clear that you are oblivious to what you should be doing for the sake of posterity. Carry on with your tomfoolery, but rest assured that the professionals are coming, the prime time players are on their way to put things into perspective. But I am just joking, do as you please, I am probably going to be dead before I fix your mess, it’s too late and the horses have bolted. What has come to pass is no different to what should

    • ST ST says:

      I see issues with what ‘you think to yourself’. I’m no expert, hopefully someone is

      It’s crucial to grasp the complexities of causes & effects of political regimes

      1There’s a spectrum of ‘democracies’.
      2Apartheid was a ‘type of democracy’ according to its elite
      3Their oppression of the majority guaranteed that they will seek ‘freedom and democracy’ in this way and have the type of leaders and population that now exist, long term
      4Authoritarians may assert the rule of law, but then they go power crazy
      5Like any successful leadership, you must mix it up (a bit) according to issues at hand. It’s called situational leadership- Take New Zealand
      6 Other questions. What’s the criteria for a successful country anyway? Who decides it? Take a country-US v Canada. Take a city; shack dwellers v uptowners. How do/did ‘successful countries’ attain/maintain wealth/power? At what cost to others in/out of the country/generations?

      I think, a special kind of solution is needed here and creating a rainbow nation is our best bet. Sooner or later we will come to this realisation. Younger generations have no memory and even less interest in the divisions we ho of dear and try to force on their innocent minds. One of the fastest growing is ‘mixed race’. Although we all share DNA and so much in common, we continue to deny this. But soon, everyone will demonstrably have a piece of someone’s else’s DNA. Hopefully this will force us to see, we are all the same and largely want the same

      • James Baxter says:

        What you are saying is very incisive and illuminating. Thank you for your words of wisdom. Of course, I am a somewhat troubled soul who ended up on the wrong side of the tracks. I should have joined the elites, but due to my origins, being raised by loving grandparents who did not have much, led to teachers in my township School not taking my schooling serious. I am telling you this to show you where my ideas come from, the pain they were given birth in, like a woman who has to give birth without the help of a midwife. I hope you are doing something for our country, like feeding toddlers in the Eastern Cape or teaching girls soccer in Soweto. You are very intelligent, and your thoughts show me that you are more intelligent than me. Why I say that, it took me upwards of 20 years to develop my ideas pertaining to leadership, I read a lot of books, I spent days reading books in my grandparents house, using them as a shield against my own inadequacy. They put up a lot with my nonsense and thankfully they gave me a safe place to hide from this cruel world. But they are no more and I pray to God that wherever they are they are safe. I don’t know what you did to develop your worldview but I thank God that there are people like you in the world. My ideas about government are obviously flawed and inspired by various socioeconomic factors such as social exclusion and whatnot. You are absolutely correct, every conceivable position, however meticulously planned will always remain vul

      • Dietmar Horn says:

        James Baxter’s contributions always impress me, I find his conclusions worth considering and some blind, university-educated ideologues could learn from him. All respect for his strength and his will for self-study and his ability to have an unbiased view of the world. My respect for his grandparents, who, with their modest means, gave him the space to develop his personality.

      • Dietmar Horn says:

        Vandalism around election posters occurs in every democracy – but to what extent? What is reported in this article inevitably leads to the question of how capable of democracy are the competing parties and their supporters? How ready is the vast majority of the South African people for democracy? Are James Baxter’s thoughts so far-fetched?

    • Skinyela Skinyela says:

      1. The current will very much like the idea of suspending democracy or implementing a managed-democracy, it would give them more power and control.

      2. South Africa can’t be said to be the leader of democracies in africa, she is one of the youngest democracies in africa(South Sudan is probably THE youngest), she only attained full independence and true self-determination in 1994.
      There are countries like Republic of Ghana who attained her independence in 1958, maybe that’s the country that must be the leader of democracy in africa.

    • Skinyela Skinyela says:

      1. The current will very much like the idea of suspending democracy or implementing a managed-democracy, it would give them more power and control.

      2. South Africa can’t be said to be the leader of democracies in africa, she is one of the youngest democracies in africa(South Sudan is probably THE youngest), she only attained full independence and true self-determination in 1994. There are countries like Republic of Ghana who attained her independence in 1958, maybe that’s the country that must be the leader of democracy in africa.

  • Tim Bester says:

    Politics is a dirty game.

  • Geoff Coles says:

    It happens everywhere round the world, but heaven knows Auntie Pat and Son of the Soil can turn the stomach

  • Johan Buys says:

    Do posters even have an impact?

    You have to wonder about the mind of an undecided voter that looks at a poster and it convinces the voter to select A over B, C, D, etc.

  • Lisbeth Scalabrini says:

    What a bunch of grown-ups with the minds of children in the primary school, steeling each others toys.

  • Van Van says:

    The problem with our current political parties are that they forget they are there to serve their constituents. Your posters, fixing street lights and pot holes doesn’t impress us. Don’t remind us of these and expect to be congratulated and get an applause. Those that you serve would like a transparent relationship, before you vote on anything in council meetings, have a meeting, explain, vote on any decision and then go represent us. Don’t forget whom you serve and whom voted for you to be their elected representative. Be humble.

  • Heinrich Holt says:

    These are the ones that want to lead our country and want people to look up to them and say they are our leaders and rolemodels.

  • Matthew Quinton says:

    The poster children of SA democracy

  • Sean Venske says:

    Only difference between the lot is the colour of the t-shirts they dish out. Rubbish the whole lot

    • Miss Jellybean says:

      The only difference between every single politician in the world is how much they get caught stealing. Every politician worldwide has fattened their bank account in some way or another. Some are just better at the coverup

  • Peter Merrington says:

    Sigh, what hope for a mature liberal democracy in the face of this school playground bully behaviour? Roll on election day and let’s get some normality here and there. Maybe.

  • Etienne Harris says:

    Never you mind the ‘poster war’. Whether it will have a significant impact on a voter is of little consequence. However, one has only to look at the looooooooong voting ballot paper and decide ‘which one of these attention seeking vultures are going to make my life easier in the next five years?’.

    For the uneducated and ignorant this must be a reasonably easy task…look for the black, yellow and green picture who gave them a yellow t-shirt and a hamper at their last shindig…for free.

  • Bob Dubery says:

    I have noticed the removal of posters where I live, but there seems to be no pattern. I think the real problem is hinted at in this article. The parties pay a contractor to put their posters up and don’t pay any attention to what the contractor does. The contractor comes along and finds a whole lot of posters already in place. How now will he put up the posters that his client is paying him to put up? That’s easily solved. Or the contractor just takes the super easy option – dump the posters and say you put them up. This would explain the neatly stacked pile of Action SA posters that I came across this morning whilst walking the dog.

  • T'Plana Hath says:

    I’m not being dismissive of the obvious shenanigans here, but I do need to point out the poor quality of this season’s election posters. They are not wind-proof by any means. In one weekend, all the posters in my neighborhood were ripped from their poles – by inclement weather. The plastic Rize posters, for example, are fancy and all but the holes where the poster is attached to the pole are not reinforced with grommets or anything (think ring-reinforcements, ne?).
    The laminar/corrugated nature of the posterboard causes the poster to shred horizontally along the poster’s ‘fault lines’ – it doesn’t take much. The DA’s posters seem to be recycled corrugated cardboard – yay, for the environment, I guess, but structurally unfit for purpose as once again the poster tears along the grain of the cardboard.
    The EFF had the good sense to wait until the end of the windy season, and now my village looks like an EFF stronghold!

  • Mario de Abreu says:

    Posters are not going to convince anybody to vote for them. Waste of time and money.

  • Roger Verite says:

    Only one other person as commented on low quality posters being put up. Our Cape winters and associated winds are rough.
    Rise Mzanzi’s plastic boards (aka Correx) tear easily and have LITTERED my neighbourhood, I’d guesstimate around 15-20% of their posters came down naturally within two weeks.
    Auntie Pat’s, Good parties posters printing has weathered badly – they faded and washed off thier (decent quality) boards within two weeks. No vandalism, just nature!
    I’ve not seen a ANC poster this season, the FF, DA & EFF posters have all weathered reasonablly well and I’ve not seen any tampered with.

    Though, I did note that the DA made sure thier posters were the highest on any poles (even pushing down other parties posters).

    And a down vote for EVERY party for using non-reusable plastic methods of attaching to poles. Meh, such a waste of time and money.

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