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SAPS probes allegations that MK party forged signatures

SAPS probes allegations that MK party forged signatures
MK supporters during the African National Congress (ANC) and uMkhonto Wesizwe (MK) party court case about the MK party trademark at the Durban High Court on March 27. (Photo by Gallo Images/Darren Stewart)

The Electoral Commission of South Africa has called on the police to expedite their investigation into the allegations of signature forgery levelled against the uMkhonto Wesizwe party.

Police are investigating former president Jacob Zuma’s uMkhonto Wesizwe (MK) party following accusations that the party forged thousands of signatures to meet the requirements to contest the 29 May polls.

National Police Commissioner Fannie Masemola told reporters on the sidelines of a crime prevention imbizo in Inanda, Durban on Tuesday, that the investigation was still in its initial stages and the police were trying to determine whether there was a case.

“There is an inquiry that was opened at the Cape Town Central Police Station. It is being investigated by the detectives in Cape Town,” Masemola said.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Elections 2024

“If it is found that indeed the elements of crime are all there, then the case will proceed to the [National Prosecuting Authority] NPA for a decision.”

On Sunday, City Press reported on allegations that the MK party had forged signatures to meet the requirements of the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) to register for the elections.

According to the publication, a former senior MK party official, Lennox Ntsodo, filed an affidavit with the Western Cape police claiming that the party had embarked on a widespread campaign to forge signatures to meet the commission’s 15,000 threshold to appear on the ballot.

Ntsodo claimed to have recruited about 20 people to assist with the mass forgery of signatures after the IEC had rejected the party’s initial application for registration in August 2023, saying the signatures it filed appeared to be fraudulent.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Signature fraud claims against Zuma’s MK party may imperil poll legitimacy

MK took the ID numbers, names and cellphone numbers from a City of Cape Town jobseekers’ database and forged the corresponding signatures before submitting them to the IEC, City Press reported.

Ntsodo asked not to be prosecuted for his admission in line with section 204 of the Criminal Procedure Act and for him and his family to be placed in witness protection.

A matter of urgency

The signature forgery scandal comes as the MK party’s support has been steadily growing, with the latest Ipsos poll showing that if the election were held tomorrow the party would garner 8.4% of the national vote, climbing to fourth position, with more support than all the other new parties.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Zuma’s MK party and unhappy voters whack ANC to 40.2% in latest Ipsos poll

If the allegations against the MK party are proven correct, this could have grave implications for the legitimacy of the elections, Daily Maverick’s Lerato Mutsila reported.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) has urged the IEC and the South African Police Service (SAPS) to investigate the accusations as a matter of urgency.

“This is not a matter we can take lightly or indulge… Free, fair and credible elections are the foundation of our democracy,” the organisation said.

“Many parties and candidates have been disqualified from contesting elections because they did not meet the signature threshold. It will be a grotesque violation of our laws if these allegations are true.”

On Monday, the IEC called on police to expedite their investigation, saying “an expeditious investigation is essential for the conduct of free and fair elections”.

The IEC confirmed that the signature portal of the candidate nomination system verifies whether the identity numbers submitted are those of registered South African citizens.

“In other words, this entails establishing whether the person is a citizen, alive and registered on the voters’ roll,” it said.

The IEC has repeatedly said that it does not have the capacity to verify the authenticity of signatures. During a liaison committee meeting with political parties earlier this year, the IEC said that if there were no obvious errors, such as the same signatures or handwriting on the lists, it was forced to rely on the “good faith” of political parties.

Legal loopholes

Analysts say that the Electoral Amendment Bill is largely at fault here, with loopholes in the legislation about the verification of signatures.

“Technically, this is not in the IEC’s mandate to verify signatures. The legislation is so badly worded,” said the founder of Ground Work Collective and former politician Mbali Ntuli.

This is not the first time the legitimacy of the supporters’ signatures provided to the IEC by the MK party has been questioned. In August 2023, the IEC’s deputy CEO of electoral matters, Masego Sheburi, wrote to the MK party saying the organisation’s registration as a political party had been rejected as the signatures it sent appeared to be fraudulent.

Sheburi said MK could submit a fresh application. Instead, it supplemented its original application and was registered with the IEC on 17 September.

“Please take note that the application for the registration of the above-mentioned party has been rejected because the signatures of supporters on the deed of foundation showed patterns of discrepancies which indicate that the signatures were made by a person/s other than the voter,” read a section of Sheburi’s letter contained in the Electoral Court’s judgment in the ANC’s case against the registration of the MK party.

In March, the ANC failed in its bid to deregister the MK party when the Electoral Court upheld the IEC’s decision to register it.

The IEC was seemingly able to scrutinise the integrity of the signatures MK submitted in August, begging the question of why this could not be done when the party submitted its supporters’ signatures in February.

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

Daily Maverick sent questions to the IEC but had not received a response by the time of publication.

Ntuli said it would be interesting to know how the IEC found that the initial signatures appeared to be fraudulent.

“It’s a good question as to how the IEC detected fraudulent signatures then [in August], and have not done so now,” said independent elections analyst Michael Atkins.

“Obviously it’s a smaller number of signatures — so it’s 1,000 signatures to be registered as a party — they may have detected the same hand signed certain signatures… But I don’t know what processes they followed in reaching that determination. One can observe in some form that clearly they carried out some verification of signatures at that stage.”

Daily Maverick sent questions to the MK party but had not received a response by the time of publication. DM

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