“[The police] came, they talked to us and said what’s going on and we showed them the paperwork [authorising the meeting]. They went to the ANC councillors of whom they are afraid because they know they are powerful in these areas, and they came back to us and said ‘these people are just singing and dancing’, and then they left.” – Agang
A report that investigates voter intimidation and manipulation and analyses the electoral process in the run-up to the 2014 elections was today, 9 April 2014, launched at the Nelson Mandela Foundation.
The report forms part of a study into factors affecting voter participation by those living in South Africa’s poorer communities in the 2014 election, and was presented by David Bruce, an independent researcher, as part of the Community Agency for Social Enquiry (C A S E) research team.
Sello Hatang, Foundation CEO, welcomed guests to the Foundation, saying that one of the key missions of the Centre of Memory is to create a safe space for open dialogue.
“We are going through a political period that requires we all work towards building a country of our dreams. Hopefully today’s discussions will contribute to that,” he said.
What factors affect voter participation in South Africa’s poorer communities?
Mohamed Motala, C A S E executive director, provided context to the report, which was undertaken to investigate how poorer South Africans are able to engage with the current political system, and what the effects of violence, intimidation and coercion are on voter participation.
"The political and economic system is not working … And growing inequality lies at the heart of the problem. Poor South Africans must be able to engage with the current political system in order to influence public policy and its outcomes to their benefit," he said.
Referring to four widely publicised incidents in which the Economic Freedom Fighters and Democratic Alliance had been targets of intimidation, Bruce said that "these incidents alone show that there is an intimidation problem and also suggest that those who are mainly responsible tend to be the ANC or allies of the ANC". The research was useful as it looked at the broader pattern of intimidation that lies behind these high-profile incidents.
It involved 24 interviews with representatives from nine political parties. Intimidation was defined as referring to "practices that involve coercion, violence, threats or manipulating people’s fears and anxieties, including threats to economic safety".
Speaking about internal intimidation within the ANC and political killings that took place in the build-up to Mangaung and to the 2014 elections, Bruce added that the research was also motivated by indications that 2014 would involve greater competition for the votes of poorer South Africans. The research was guided by the assumption that intimidation was most likely to affect parties challenging the dominance of an established party in poorer areas.
Drawing attention to 13 killings of political party members that had taken place since January 2013, Bruce said it would be a mistake to equate intimation with political killing. “It seems that political killings – of which there was a surge in 2011 and 2012 – have declined, with a total of 13 deaths in the period under review,” he said. Neither the geography of fatal political violence, nor the role-players involved, match that for intimidation more generally.
The most prominent and visible forms of intimidation were generally targeted at opposition meetings or groups of opposition members involved in canvassing. One tactic was to ensure that they were denied access to meeting facilities. In addition, meetings would sometimes be disrupted by a group of people. Sometimes these incidents would involve threats of physical harm, or escalate into physical confrontations in which people were assaulted.
There is a strong sub-text of intimidation in the economic sphere too, he added, where individuals or groups supporting opposing parties face economic sanctions, such as the denial of work contracts or tenders based on their political views.
Other report findings
Who faces intimidation?
Political parties and actors that are perceived to pose a threat to the dominance of a party in specific locations.
Who is carrying out the intimidation?
Local political party supporters (under the direction of influence of local party leaders).
Where is intimidation taking place?
Examples of intimidation provided by interviewees included eight out of nine provinces.
Different interviewees had different perspectives on where and when intimidation was most likely:
In KZN: for ANC more rural, for IFP more urban
For NFP: informal settlements and hostels
- Others argued: not so much a question of "where", but that it depends on whether the dominant party feels dominance is threatened
Concerns regarding the bodies tasked with ensuring free and fair elections
Many interviewees raised concerns relating to apparent partisanship of members of the South African Police Service (SAPS), and described SAPS members as lacking confidence in dealing with voter intimidation. Many interviewees are of the opinion that SAPS members, when faced with political intimidation and violence, display fear of taking action against, specifically, the ANC.
The report indicates that many interviewees raised concerns about the lack of full engagement by the IEC with intimidation. The IEC’s primary tool for dealing with intimidation are party liaison committees. These structures respond after the fact, and requires political parties to raise the issue themselves.
Professor Susan Booysen, of the Graduate School of Public and Development Management at Wits University, provided some reflections on the C A S E report, saying that its greatest value is that it exposes the views and voices of political party actors, who related their experiences of multi-party interaction in the run-up to this year’s election process.
“The findings show how every phase of the election process is affected by activities relating to intimidation. It highlights the many practices that impact on one’s decision to vote, and to vote for whom, which are becoming increasing articulated as the years roll on. When one observes political intimidation and manipulation dynamics in action, it makes one question the standards of free and fair elections in South Africa,” she added.
For Booysen, the C A S E report refined the hypothesis that the fiercer the competition is, the more the likelihood of violence and intimidation. “It confirms that the threat of intimidation is specific to serious political contenders who are likely to make an imprint on the election,” she added. “Which begs the question – is this intimidation an act of necessity? Does it have to be that way?”
Most importantly, said Booysen, the report details how the ordinary citizen is experiencing much of the election process. “They have the sense that they are ‘being watched’, and that they are under threat of intimidation if they are seen to be openly supporting opposition parties. The ordinary citizen is anxious, and fears losing their pension, or their social grant if they openly support an ‘other’,” she said.
“In addition, access and support of financial resources speak to mechanisms of the election process – where a tyranny of people who have power is based on financial need – and represents a very real threat among South Africa’s poorer communities,” she said.
What are the recommendations?
“Political intimidation today is rife, and is much more sophisticated that that encountered in 1994. At this stage, it will not disrupt the election, but rather shapes the political ground on which the election is contested,” said Bruce.
“As a result of intimidation, many citizens feel it is risky to openly support an opposition party. The secrecy of the ballot itself is not on its own sufficient to ensure free political activity.”
Bruce advised that, as the ruling party, the ANC needs to acknowledge the issue of intimidation, and recognise it is implicated in the problem. “The ANC has a massive influence in defining the rules of engagement in competition between political parties, and should take wider responsibility for setting a much better example,” he said.