Rivals cry foul over Ramaphosa’s speech before South Africa’s election

ANC predicted to get lowest share of votes since end of apartheid

Two opposition parties have filed complaints at an electoral court against South Africa’s president, Cyril Ramaphosa, for allegedly breaching campaigning rules during a televised address to the nation.

On the eve of South Africa’s general election, the main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) and the uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) party have accused the African National Congress (ANC) leader of abusing his position to garner votes in advance of Wednesday’s national ballot.

On Sunday, Mr Ramaphosa (71) addressed South Africans about preparations for the ballot as their president, calling for a peaceful poll and thanking the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) for its work to date.

The 71-year-old is seeking a second term in office and is the ANC’s candidate for president.

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However, the DA maintains that during his speech he also directly campaigned for votes, outlining how his administration tackled public sector corruption – known locally as “state capture” – and alleviated an electricity crisis by enabling investment into state-run power producer, Eskom.

In court papers the DA’s federal council chairperson Helen Zille described Mr Ramaphosa’s address as “nothing more than a thinly veiled stump speech” that breached the Electoral Act and Electoral Code of Conduct.

“He sought to use his position as head of state and head of the government to encourage the public to vote for the ANC,” she claimed.

The DA has called on the court to sanction Mr Ramaphosa and the ANC by reducing the number of votes cast for the former liberation movement by 1 per cent.

The MK party, which is fronted by former president and ANC leader Jacob Zuma, has also asked the electoral court to sanction Mr Ramaphosa for his “blatant violation” of the Electoral Act by deploying state resources, such as the national broadcaster, to unfairly benefit his party.

The electoral court is expected to hear both applications once the general election’s results are finalised. This should occur by early next week.

Nearly 27.8 million South Africans have registered to vote in Wednesday’s ballot, which is the seventh general election to occur in the country since the end of apartheid 30 years ago.

The ANC has won the last six elections outright, but support for the party has been on the decline since 2004 when it secured 70 per cent of the vote, due to poor governance, internal party corruption and an inability to develop an economy that can create jobs. In 2019 the ANC won 57.5 per cent of the ballot.

Wednesday‘s poll, which includes provincial elections for the nine provinces, is expected to be keenly contested. Indeed, many political analysts believe the ANC is unlikely to get more than 50 per cent of the vote for the first time.

South Africa has witnessed extreme violence during past elections. With that in mind, the authorities have deployed an extra 500 public order police to join 17,000 officers patrolling potential flashpoints in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape provinces, they confirmed on Monday.

The country follows a proportional voting system in which parties and independent candidates compete for 400 seats in parliament. There are 52 parties contesting the national vote. Successful parties deploy their candidates to the seats they win.

Those elected to the National Assembly select the president from within their ranks using a simple majority vote to determine the successful candidate.

Voter surveys have indicated the ANC is likely to get between 40-50 per cent of the vote, which would force it into some form of coalition government to retain power.

Bill Corcoran

Bill Corcoran

Bill Corcoran is a contributor to The Irish Times based in South Africa