Zille smells another rat

Jeremy Gordin writes on the ANC's suspicious legal manouverings around the election

I was deeply impressed by (read: envious of) my learned friend David Bullard’s claim earlier this week that he was so taken with Rovos Rail that [he] chartered the entire train for [his] 40th birthday [i].

What a lovely memory to wake up to of a morning, I thought to myself – whereas I all too often wake up to an email from my bank pointing out that my current account is overdrawn and that I’d better do something about it pronto.

Ah yes, there are far too many mornings when, as the sun (also) rises, I find myself plaintively asking why I became a humble reporter when I could have joined the ANC, sold second-hand cars, or become an attorney, estate agent or media mogul, like Daily Maverick CEO Styli Charalambous [ii] or like Iqbal Survé.

This morning these mournful reflections made me think of acting ANC secretary-general Jesse Duarte (yes, it was a rough morning) and whether she wakes up worrying about the party’s finances. For example, a newspaper report of a few days ago read: “The ANC’s financial crisis, its emaciated secretary-general’s office and Covid-19 restrictions have caused a perfect storm ahead of the local government elections”.

I’ve not seen anyone who seems at all “emaciated” in the ANC or the government. But certainly, I have recently read reports that the ANC has failed to pay staff salaries and other benefits “for months” and that its employees are on strike in protest [iii] .

An apparently even more serious issue, which must surely be clouding Duarte’s mornings, is the issue of the (maybe) forthcoming local government elections.

Now, I must come clean with readers, and admit that elections, local or national, do not generally concern me much [iv]. Seffrican elections have always seemed irrelevant and tedious to me. I’m sorry to be a such an undemocratic citizen but it’s been palpably evident since 1994 – actually, if I think about it, since 1948 (when I was minus-4) – which party was going to win them. And who, except say Hansie Cronje, can get excited about a fixed race?

But my gorgeous wife last night gently disabused me of such negative and foolish thoughts. Elections, she told me, are the bedrock of a democratic dispensation. Without legally stipulated and free and fair ones, you don’t have a democracy. The right to vote underpins our democracy. This is why elections are dealt with by the Constitution. You can’t fiddle with them, my wife sternly informed me.

But besides me having been sorted out, so to speak, a wonderful (and even illuminating) brouhaha has just broken out about our forthcoming ones (if we have them – see below) – and as a result I am now mightily interested.

We were supposed to have our next local (municipal) elections on 27 October. But the IEC (the Independent Electoral Commission), our “independent” (chapter nine) election management body, was concerned about holding elections during a time of Covid and thought it might be wiser to postpone them [v]. Needless to say, the various political parties disagreed about whether to do so or not.

The Economic Freedom Fighters and Inkatha Freedom Party called for a postponement (the EFF wanted a postponement until April 2022, the IFP until May). The ANC was (then, in July) of the view that October elections should go ahead unless the pandemic “reaches much more critical proportions by October,” in which case there should be a postponement until the beginning of December or latest February 2022.

The parties in the pro-postponement camp argued that having to give up traditional campaigning methods such as rallies – due to the prohibition on mass gatherings (“super-spreader” events) – and having to canvass via digital means such as social media, would disadvantage the electorate’s less privileged members.

Makes sense, I guess. If you need to arrange the delivery of chicken and tee-shirts, and also remind (preferably shorter) people face-to-face who they should be voting for – well, this is better done in person. On the other hand, seems to me that social media worked perfectly well during the recent, so-called Zuma insurrection.

Also on the other hand, there seems no good reason to believe that, regarding Covid-19, things will be any better in February, April, or May 2022. The Covid waves just keep coming, the mutations keep mutating, and Seffricans seem in any case monumentally unimpressed by the pandemic. During the so-called Zuma insurrection, we carried on as usual – and also see footnote 4 below.

Regarding postponement – not on your nelly, said the pesky DA. The elections should happen in October “come hell or high water”. Werner Horn argued that the prohibition on mass gatherings did not infringe on the right to campaign. Parties could make use of other means such as telephone canvassing, poster messaging, printed manifestos, as well as the media. It’s also been pointed out that other countries, beset by Covid19 restrictions, have held elections [vi].

Might I even make so bold as to suggest that now would be, from a DA point-of-view, a “good” time to have the ANC go to the ballot box? For numerous reasons, the ANC has performed even worse in the last three or four years than ever before. It’s difficult to understand how it has managed this – it must have taken a massive effort – but it has.  

The IEC asked former deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke to look into the matter and on 20 July he found that local government elections could not be free and fair due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, and elections should be delayed until no later than February 2022.

Anyway, the elections could not be postponed until the – no offence intended – fat ladies and gents had sung. Regarding such a grave matter, the IEC had to make an application to the Constitutional Court to delay the elections until say February. It did this on Friday August 20.

But, as Jacob Zuma could tell you, the Concourt is not to be rushed; the learned justices like to ponder matters carefully. As I write this, the Concourt has still not decided whether or not the elections can be postponed – and it’s September 2 today. There’s a rumour that the justices will break their collective silence tomorrow – but I’m not holding my breath.

Meanwhile, given that the justices were being so unforthcoming, political parties had to get on with preparations. But then disaster struck the emaciated folk at the ANC. By IEC deadline time, the ANC failed to submit candidate lists in almost 100 municipalities. I.e., if the elections proceed on October 27, the ANC faces an unprecedented loss of seats.

What do you do when things go wrong for you in Seffrica? You cry Foul and you go to court. So, the ANC approached the Electoral Court to extend the deadline for registering candidates – because, as spokesperson Pule Mabe has delicately put it, the mess-up resulted from “pressure placed on the candidate selection process by Covid-19 restrictions on meetings ... This was exacerbated by challenges experienced on the IEC's online candidate registration system”.

Same old, same old; this is Seffrica, maibru. Regarding this application, the learned EFF comandante Julius Malema said: “It is therefore opportunistic and unacceptable of the ANC, which knew of the election date before all political parties, to approach the electoral court to accommodate their incompetence and inability to meet deadlines because of infighting and factionalism.”

But then, a day or so ago, on Tuesday evening, things got really exciting. Having submitted a 200-page application to the electoral court, the ANC abruptly withdrew it.

Why would that be? Infighting? Factionalism? Geez, I don’t know.

But DA Federal Council chairperson Helen Zille, who’s smelled a rat or two in her time (even if it’s sometimes taken her a while), smells a rat. As is her wont, she has gently suggested – admittedly without any “hard” evidence – that the ANC has probably been tipped off about the ConCourt’s imminent ruling on whether the elections will be postponed (i.e., they will be).

And, if elections are postponed, as Zille says, then the IEC presses the “re-set” button and issues a new timetable, which will enable the ANC to re-register its candidates.

Could this really have happened – a leak from the ConCourt?

A wise friend remarked to me that “It would be a very sad indictment of the ANC if, having had years to pack the ConCourt, it had failed to do so.” In other words, of course someone at the Concourt tipped off the ANC. On the other hand, there seems to be no cap on what the ANC is capable of failing at.

Then again, the leak doesn’t have to have emanated from one of the learned justices. There is a large staff at the Concourt, there are folk at the IEC who might be in the know, and so on. Porousness: I like that word.

Anyway, a good move by Zille. A bit like the old tabloid journalist’s question: Mr X, do you still beat your wife? Obviously, Mr X won’t say yes. And even if Mr X says no, he’s nonetheless agreeing that he used to do so.

If the ConCourt postpones the elections – as it likely will – Zille’s suggestion is out there, and the question therefore remains: why did the ANC withdraw its application to the electoral court?

And if the Concourt doesn’t postpone the elections, it could just be because Zille fired a shot across its bows. Couldn’t it?


[i] I refer to it as a “claim” not for any disrespectful reason but because one cannot in these very troubled times be too careful. I have not, for example, seen the medical report produced by the military doctors responsible for former President JG Zuma’s care; and, while I do not of course mistrust our military doctors (perish the thought), one cannot, as I say, be too careful. Similarly, I have never seen the order or invoice regarding the chartering of an entire train for Mr Bullard’s 40th birthday.

[ii] Why, by the way, has Charalambous just been awarded “the prestigious Nat Nakasa industry award for courage”? I daresay he’s a courageous and wonderful person (he must be if he employs 141 people, as he claims, to produce one news and opinion site, and now one weekly newspaper in which the words from the site are used). But surely the Nakasa Award is meant for journalists? Isn’t there an appropriate business award that Charalambous should have received?

[iii] It has also been reported that the ANC has not paid PAYE deductions (which have apparently been deducted!) to SARS either and that the ANC owes the tax authority more than R80m. This is serious stuff; I can tell you from bitter experience that SARS is not to be trifled with. I was one of those who loudly applauded the Nugent Commission of Inquiry into SARS; I should have thought through the matter more carefully.

[iv] Like Professor Debbie Bradshaw, one of the country's leading biostatisticians with extensive expertise in epidemiology and demography, who works for the SA Medical Research Council (SAMRC), “I worry that the daily announcements of the confirmed Covid-19 deaths leave many South Africans unconcerned about the impact of the pandemic”. In brief, nearly 250 000 deaths from natural causes have been reported over and above what was expected since the start of the Covid-19 in SA in March 2020 (“excess deaths”) – yet the “official” reported death toll is 82 496.

[v] There’s the pesky money issue too. Early in July, the IEC’s Sy Mamabolo said the pandemic had resulted in additional unbudgeted costs such as PPE for voting officials and other protective aids, which came in at more than R129-million.

[vi] Apparently, countries like Lithuania and the Czech Republic have even had “drive-by” voting stations for people in quarantine. Israel established dedicated polling stations for quarantined voters.