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ATM leader believes party’s intense Phala Phala performance in Parliament will woo voters

ATM leader believes party’s intense Phala Phala performance in Parliament will woo voters
ATM leader Vuyo Zungula during the ATM Hosting of a Manifesto Rally at Jabulani Amphitheatre in Soweto, South Africa. March 24 2024 (Photo: Gallo Images/Fani Mahuntsi)

The fledgling African Transformation Movement made an impact in its first term in Parliament by seeking accountability for the Phala Phala scandal involving President Cyril Ramaphosa. But will the party be able to increase its support despite the tough competition expected at the 2024 polls? 

African Transformation Movement (ATM) leader Vuyo Zungula first emerged in the political arena leading up to the 2019 elections and has since had to prove himself in the space.

The ATM managed to garner enough support to win two seats in the National Assembly, with Zungula and Thandiswa Marawu representing the party.

Zungula told Daily Maverick that while they are a small party, ATM have been able to use Parliament to hold the executive accountable.

“You have all of the mechanisms just like bigger parties, you just need to be bold and resolute in what you believe in. You must not as a smaller party have a mindset of saying you will just follow bigger parties,” said the ATM leader.

The ATM punched above its weight several times, including in the Phala Phala forex saga.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Ramaphosa’s Farmgate scandal – a timeline of what we know (and don’t know) so far

It successfully submitted the motion which led to the establishment of the Section 89 impeachment process against President Cyril Ramaphosa. Ramaphosa escaped removal from office with 214 votes against, 148 for and two abstentions.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Impeachment proceedings against Ramaphosa quashed as few rebels voted ‘yes’ and his loudest critics were nowhere to be seen

Ramaphosa was accused of covering up the theft of money from his game farm in February 2020 by former Spy Boss Arthur Fraser. He claimed Ramaphosa had breached the Prevention of Organised Crime Act and that large undisclosed sums of US dollars were stolen from the Limpopo farm.

Zungula said its motion helped the party earn its stripes in Parliament and made other parties acknowledge them.

“We did not have expectations but what we wanted to achieve is Parliament doing something. They just wanted a subcommittee to probe it but we said the rules of Parliament now necessitate that there should be a section 89 committee,” said Zungula.

In June 2022, Zungula compelled the Public Protector to launch an investigation into Ramaphosa’s alleged violation of the Executive Members’ Ethics Act (EMEA) in connection with the scandal.

Ramaphosa was cleared of wrongdoing as it was found that the President’s role at the farm was one of investor and trustee and that he did not undertake remunerated work in breach of the code. The ATM has taken the matter on review.

Electoral fate

The ATM party received only 76,830 votes in the 2019 general elections and then 189,943 votes at the local polls in 2021.

After its inception, the ATM welcomed Jacob Zuma Foundation spokesperson Mzwanele Manyi as a member of its National Executive Committee. At the time, Manyi was leaving the ANC, saying he had overstayed his welcome.

However, he ditched the ATM to join the EFF in 2023 and was almost immediately made an MP. He explained his decision to join the red berets: “The EFF has scale and demonstrable track record on accountability issues. Importantly, it is a listening party that genuinely engages the electorate before drawing up a manifesto.”

The ATM’s support mostly comes from churches linked to the South African Council of Messianic Churches in Christ (SACMCC). The party was formed in 2018 with the backing of this organisation, which includes various national and local churches.

While Zungula is at the helm of the party’s politics, ATM’s spiritual father, Caesar Nongqunga, the “chief apostle” of the Twelve Apostles’ Church in Christ (TACC) worldwide plays a big role. He not only seems to have the funds but the following.

The TACC is part of the SACMCC, which has a following of 6.8 million members.

Nongqunga gifted Zungula a brand new black Mercedes-Benz C220d, which retails at over R900,000 at the party’s initial manifesto launch in 2023 at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.

Zungula believes that with the work they have done in the first five years, more members will be voting for them this time around.

Read more in Daily Maverick: 2024 elections news hub

“The church backing is very important because even from the beginning the churches got together and said, let us form the Council of Messianic Churches and from there the ATM was born. So, that is why the majority of ATM members are coming from those churches, the majority of our support base is coming from these churches,” he said.

The ATM has barely featured in the recent polls, but it doesn’t worry Zungula.

“Polls are very funny because there was a poll we saw that had Cope on 2% and ATM was not even featured but when you look at the manifesto launch of Cope, there were not more than 400 people there.

“When you look at how we launched our manifesto in the Eastern Cape, then we went to Johannesburg and we had a very big rally. So we do not take polls seriously because to a certain extent, they are influenced towards a certain outcome,” he said.

Analysts weigh in

Sanusha Naidu, a senior research fellow at the Institute for Global Dialogue, described the ATM as “disrupters” for both the governing ANC and other opposition parties.

“What I find in terms of its evolution is that it has been a disruptor to the ANC in Parliament. It became the kind of party that was able to challenge the ANC in the manner it did with lots and lots of astute strategy as well as knowledge and backing that it had.”

She said it galvanised around what the MK party later called the “Ramaphosa ANC”.

“It builds out from the kind of church base and it is something we have not looked at to say, ‘How many political parties are actually deeply rooted in the church?’ It pushes back against the ANC,” she said.

When it was first formed, the ATM was said to have links to former president Jacob Zuma, who stepped down as President in early 2018 following Ramaphosa’s election as ANC President in December 2017.

At the time, an ANC faction aligned to Zuma — which included the ANC’s then secretary-general Ace Magashule — was reportedly trying to undermine the Ramaphosa-led ANC. Zuma’s ally Manyi’s involvement in the new party raised eyebrows.

In an affidavit deposed by the general secretary of the SACMCC, Buyisile Ngqulwana, he was said to have detailed consultation sessions with both Zuma and Magashule about forming an alternative party to the Ramaphosa-led ANC. Ngqulwana later reportedly withdrew his affidavit and Zungula has categorically denied Zuma and Magashule had a role in forming the ATM.

Naidu acknowledged Zungula’s leadership but said there were still questions regarding its formation and future links to Zuma’s MK party and Magashule African Congress for Transformation (ACT) party.

“There is a pattern there we will have to watch for this election, as they may start resonating with the MK party, [former President] Zuma and [ACT leader] Ace Magashule. Its inception is rooted in the political opponents of those who left the ANC and there have been those sorts of rumours about who was the brain behind the formation of the ATM,” she explained.

Lecturer for Political Sciences and Public Policy at the Tshwane University of Technology and Levy Ndou believes the party has fared well in its five years in Parliament.

“ATM has performed well in the sense that on many issues, you would get the voice of ATM through their leader. They have been very vocal and have remained vocal on the issue of Phala Phala. In my view, that is where you get an ATM having been distinguished from other political parties. Like other minority parties, they have been able to be seen as a party that had the energy and courage to make their views heard in Parliament.

“Their performance will be determined by the election strategy and how they are communicating with people out there. At this stage you cannot tell if they are going to make it or not, if indeed they still want to be represented in Parliament, they need to go out and campaign and ensure they secure seats,” he said.

Coalitions

While the ATM is not in a formal coalition with the ANC, it has voted with the governing party in the City of Johannesburg and Mogale City. The ATM managed to get its hands on the mayoral chains for the first time in Mogale City when its councillor Danny Thupane was voted in by the ANC.

The ATM has a good relationship with the EFF, with Zungula having attended the red berets’ manifesto launch in Durban earlier this year. EFF leader Julius Malema has been quoted as saying he would collaborate with the ATM if the opportunity arises.

The ATM also partnered up with the ACDP in articulating that the use of Covid-19 vaccines should be done with caution. They agreed with the EFF, PAC, UDM and AIC in opposing the impeachment of former Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Busisiwe Mkhwebane to fight her successor for R10m ‘gratuity’

However, Zungula denied rumours that the ATM is part of a group of parties who are presenting an alternative to the Multi-Party Charter, which is anchored by the DA.

The parties that are said to be part of the alternate grouping include the EFF, PAC, MK party, UDM and ATM.

“These parties have not sat down to speak about how they are going to vote after May 29th but when the people and some of the members look at major issues such as the land, transformation of the economy there are those similarities. The people now expect that on the bigger issues, there is alignment, therefore you should be voting together. Maybe after elections, we can have a conversation because as a party we do not want to pre-empt what will happen in the elections.

“On the question of coalitions, we have been very consistent to say that it has not been about the people. We are clear to say that there must be a plan of action and then who is qualified to lead,” he reiterated.

Manifesto 

The ATM’s ideology revolves around an amalgamation of politics and religion.

The party has prioritised issues like rolling blackouts, transforming the economy and fighting crime in their manifesto which was first launched last year and then again last month.

They want to reintroduce capital punishment, which was abolished in South Africa in 1995.

“We believe that it can work but let the voice of the people be heard through a referendum. We believe there are influences like unemployment and poverty and then you have brazen criminality. There are people in our country who are hitmen, if they were to be arrested they still influence hits from inside prison,” according to Zungula.

The party also supports the repair of South Africa’s coal-powered stations and believes that the country is not yet ready to move to renewable energy sources.

“You need to have coal power stations to be working at 75% power, the 25% is for downtime and maintenance. There needs to be a review of all the evergreen contracts in Eskom.

“The Just Energy Transition, we need to discuss it or invest ourselves in it because we have coal and coal reserves. We need to find out how to use coal in a clean manner. Our emissions compared to first-world countries are not significant,” he said.

There needs to be a transformation of the economy to ensure that there are more players involved.

“At least 50% of spending should go to small businesses because they are the biggest creators of jobs. If the government is having a contract with the SMME, it is likely to invest the money back into the economy, so that it grows. We are saying that any government contract which is beneath R10-million must be set aside for small business,” he said. DM

Gallery

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