Chaos Is The Point: Zuma threatens IEC, and daughter Duduzile attacks its Commissioner Janet Love

Leader of the uMkhonto Wesizwe party Jacob Zuma arrives at the IEC National Results Operations Centre in Midrand on 1 June 2024.(Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

The Independent Electoral Commission of SA (IEC) is under attack from the surging MK party. In a late-night visit to the IEC results centre on June 1, the party’s leader, former president Jacob Zuma, warned at a press conference: ‘Nobody must declare tomorrow. People will be provoking us.’ He added: ‘Don’t rush us. Nobody is going to announce tomorrow. We have more information to give.’

When asked what evidence the party had of vote-rigging, MK said it was sub judice, a legal concept that no longer exists in South African law as it is meant to protect a jury from influence. Instead, it is often used to shield information or spread disinformation under the cover of a mock legality.   

Zuma’s threat and demand are unprecedented in 30 years, where all parties which have run for elections have abided by IEC rules and felt fairly treated by its intricate system of consultation with party liaison committees.

The IEC said at a briefing that its results declaration on Sunday, June 2, will proceed as planned.

Zuma has a beef with the IEC, which stopped his candidature. As his start-up has romped into third position nationally and is KwaZulu-Natal’s largest party by far, he has steadily upped the ante against the electoral body, finally issuing the ominous warning.

Zuma is barred from standing as a candidate by the Constitution because he was sentenced to 15 months’ imprisonment for contempt of court in 2021. The MK party insisted on putting him on its candidate list and then went to court when the IEC excluded him, forcing the institution into a court case. The ConCourt ruled against him, but that did not stop the attacks. 

(See a summary of the Constitutional Court judgment here.)

Three days before the May 29 election, MK party members illegally entered a voting station warehouse in Hammarsdale, KwaZulu-Natal, recorded the voting material stored there and then created a viral disinformation thread alleging the material was being used to rig the election.

The IEC explained why it was untrue and said it would take legal action against MK party members. The party has drawn the IEC into several similar battles ahead of Zuma’s eve of declaration gambit.

The purpose may be to destabilise the Commission and cast doubt over the election outcome. Zuma has been joined in his bid by African Congress for Transformation (ACT) boss Ace Magashule, who was dismissed as secretary-general by the ANC. He has gone on to start ACT, which received a tiny number, 0.2%, of votes, with 99% of the voting districts counted by 6pm on June 1.  

Magashule alleged the party was set to win the Free State, but the number of votes it received shows this to be patently untrue and almost comically exaggerated. 

However, with a slavish media contingent repeating every word of the allegations and with social media’s insatiable appetite, lies quickly can become truths. 

Zuma alleged that “the machines were being done things that’s wrong”, he said about a short period when the IEC’s public-facing results portal went down. Now, MK has ratcheted up the tension, not only warning the IEC not to release the results as planned on Sunday, June 2, but also escalating its demands from a recount to a re-vote. 

At the results centre, MK’s Duduzile Zuma also demanded that IEC Commissioner Janet Love be arrested for alleged vote-rigging, as this Independent Media report shows. Love has come under repeated attack from MK for bias, even though both the Electoral Court and Constitutional Court have cleared her of pre-judging Zuma’s candidacy. Both courts found that, at a media conference, all she did was set out what Section 47(2) of the Constitution says about when candidates sentenced to periods of imprisonment can and can’t stand for election. 

MK has signed up to the Electoral Code of Conduct, which enjoins parties not to attack the IEC, and to abide by its tried-and-tested systems of dealing with objections and allegations of electoral malfeasance. 

Explainer: what’s happening here?

There’s no doubt there is some anger at the slam-dunk judgment the ConCourt made on Zuma’s candidacy, not that he would ever go to Parliament. MK officials say he wanted to play a role in building the party outside. He’s also 82 years old. 

MK’s manifesto is anti-institution and anti-Constitution. It speaks, for example, about nationalising the SA Reserve Bank and holding a referendum to scrap the Constitution and replace South Africa’s constitutional democracy with a “parliamentary” system. The attacks on the IEC are meant to dent its credibility and to throw it off balance. Undoubtedly, the MK leader is also fighting for his confidant and supporter Magashule, who has lost his position of provincial strongman to walk out in the political wilderness.

There is another, more ominous purpose. Zuma is position-bargaining by using his attacks on the IEC to influence the balance of forces in the ANC. The governing party is in a difficult position, facing a challenging future. It has lost the election, coming in at 40.2%. In this position of weakness, the ANC can go two ways. It can form a grand coalition or a government of national unity (GNU) with itself and the DA as the lead partners. Or it can make up with Zuma, fire Ramaphosa and enter into a radical populist pact with MK, EFF, ACT and other parties lining up for State Capture 2.0. 

There is a lot of support for this idea inside the ANC. The ANC’s older and more sensible wing is leaning towards a GNU, and Zuma’s gambit is to strengthen the hand of what is still a sizeable faction in the ANC he can call his own. Duduzile Zuma told Daily Maverick that many of its votes came from ANC sleepers, showing that reversing MK back into the ANC is still possible. MK has won 14.58% of the national vote, with 99% of voting districts counted. In KwaZulu-Natal, it has won 45.93%, making it the largest party and proving that ANC members have defected by the truckload. The ANC was at 17.63%, and the IFP at 16.29%, with 99% of the voting districts counted on June 1.

Now that the IEC has said the announcement will go ahead and President Cyril Ramaphosa has confirmed he will attend, Zuma has set the scene for a showdown with the wounded head of state, Trump-Biden style. His gauntlet is a show of force and an invitation to a duel. It’s also unprecedented and enormously destabilising for South Africa’s future and its, until now, unblemished young story of elections and electoral democracy.

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