IEC launches first probe into unreported foreign political funding – Deputy Chief Electoral Officer Mawethu Mosery

There’s no doubt that the Independent Electoral Commission will be under more pressure than ever in the run-up to the 2024 elections. Expectations are high with the opposition hoping to unseat the ANC and the ruling party hoping it can cling to power. It could be a watershed moment for South Africa. The IEC is grappling with legislative changes and three ballot papers, which is a first for South Africa. There are a mind-boggling 540 political parties registered with the IEC in the country with 340 parties eligible to contest nationally which is an indication of how fragmented politics in South Africa is. In this interview with BizNews, Deputy Electoral Officer Mawethu Mosery said the IEC has made substantial progress in preparation for the election next year and was making more use of online registration. Mr Mosery said the commission was creating a platform for businesses and citizens to support political parties financially. He also revealed that the IEC has initiated an investigation into the first case of undisclosed foreign funding to a political party. He said it was brought to the IEC’s attention by a whistleblower.  – Linda van Tilburg

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Excerpts from the interview

Many of the election processes are now online, candidate registration open towards end of the year 

We will not say we are ready, but our project plan and our scheduling is progressing very well. We are satisfied with where we are. In preparation of the 18th and 19th of November registration, we’ve concluded all our procurement and we’ve prepared the technology that we will use to register voters. We’ve settled voting stations and we are almost halfway with the recruitment of presiding officers and we are starting the training of presiding officers. It tells us that we are progressing fairly well. So, we are comfortable that we should make it and also give South Africa a very good experience of the election process. On the other aspects that come early in next year like candidate nomination, we’ve now advanced greatly with our candidate nomination application. We are encouraging that candidates are nominated online. They don’t have to bring documents to our offices. We are saying to those political parties who must submit signatures in the same way that the independents will submit signatures, they can also do so online. So, there’s a lot that we do to facilitate access and we will ensure that it becomes available a little bit earlier, so that they have enough time to do what they have to do. The signatures, it is 4000 to about 15,000 depending on where you are contesting; it’s quite a high number. So, we think that we will make available that platform towards the end of this year so that they can start capturing their 15,000, if it is 15, 000. They can start doing that now and they have three months until the close of nomination of candidates, which is late February or early March.

514 political parties registered, 340 contesting nationally

In total in our register in South Africa, we have 540 political parties that are fully registered as political parties in the country. We have 340 of the 540 on the national register. So, all of them are eligible to contest this election. Independents do not have to pre-register. So, we’ll see that when they are nominated that so-and-so is an independent. For us to know who wants to contest the election, we have to ask them to give notice. So, of the 340 political parties, we will have a date by which they must give us notice that they will contest. The14 political parties that are currently in the National Parliament only have to pay the deposit, but the rest of the 330-odd political parties must give us their deposit, must give us notice, and then must give us the the signatures supporting the contest for this election in similar numbers to those signatures required of independent candidates. There are no independents currently in our legislature. So, for all independents, we require signatures, a deposit and the notice to contest. We will know only in March who is really going to be on the ballot. It’s at that point that we will know whether we have a short ballot or a long ballot note or a 4-pager ballot for this election.

Read more: IEC Press Release: Results of Municipal By-elections held on 19 July 2023

IEC created a platform for businesses and citizens to support political parties 

We are now creating a platform for business in South Africa and to citizens of the country. Any philanthropist who wants to support the political stability of the country, to contribute to the existence and the functioning of political parties, they will then use this multiparty fund by depositing their money. The distribution of the money in that fund is similar to the represented political parties fund that comes from the state. We also have provisions for those who prefer to directly contribute to political parties,  the DA, the ANC, the EFF or whoever you give money to. Those who prefer to contribute directly must disclose their contribution. That’s the area that has been of interest is about the disclosures. So far, it has been good. We’ve seen a number of disclosures. It’s good for democracy that we know who’s making contributions. There are a lot more people or entities or businesses that are interested in political stability but are not making any contribution for that stability to exist because the existence of political parties is what our democracy needs, because we are a multi-party democracy in South Africa.

First case of undisclosed foreign funding reported by whistleblower being investigated

So far, the compliance from political parties has been good but it’s not been smooth sailing. There’s been hiccups here and there. As we encounter some of those, we are able to explain to political parties. Just recently, we had our first case of an anonymous person saying this party received A or B, please investigate. So, we’re doing our first investigation as we speak. We will not know anything about the type of funding or donation a party has received unless there’s a disclosure or there is a whistleblower, as it has happened in this particular case. 

No foreign funding is allowed to go directly to political parties except where they support a training program, a development of party material but you have to disclose all of those foreign donations to your political party. So, there is no expectation whether it’s Ukraine or Russia or the United States of America or the United Kingdom; any entity in those countries, when they make a contribution to your party, it must be disclosed and we must know.

Court challenges, hoping for outcome end of September

There are currently two court challenges, they are challenging three aspects of the new arrangement around candidate nomination and participation in the election. In our view, we hope the court will decide these matters very quickly and we are grateful that we have been given notice that the Court will hear the matters next week or the other week, and that gives us an assurance that probably by mid-September we will have a final court decision and based on the end of September having a decision, we will organise the election according to the current framework or whatever the Court allows us to proceed with. So, there shouldn’t be a delay of the election and therefore the 18 November registration over a weekend proceeds and we are still encouraging South African citizens to use that registration weekend, but those who have access to the internet to go online and use our online voter registration application to register themselves to change their address if need be.

Read more: Cape Town’s mayor urges devolution of rail, unionising taxi drivers or risk repeat of violence and chaos

Countering mis- and disinformation with civil society and the media

We have had our fair share of experience dating back to the 2011 elections and 2014, 2016 and 2019 elections into 2021. We started in 2019 to start to do something about disinformation and misinformation. We formalised our mitigation approach to disinformation and misinformation in 2021, and we continue to do so. Part of our mitigation is partnering with civil society. There is one in the Western Cape, and there’s another here in Gauteng and also we’ve moved to create a collaborative agreement with the main providers of social media where most of the disinformation find easy access because known traditional media houses don’t treat incidents and news stories lightly, they have ethical and professional application before they can publicise the stories, and that helps in minimising the elements of disinformation in our traditional medium in the country. But also we’ve taken on an approach that says we must move forward as the Commission to communicate the correct information, share the correct information with a host of media houses. We visit them and we also use social platforms and other digital platforms to share information about the elections. We will take upon ourselves to be continuously proactive as a way to minimise opportunities of disinformation and misinformation.

Expats can only vote at embassies, consulates overseas, registration online 

South Africans who are outside the borders and those that may be outside the borders at that time of the election,a All they have to do is to give the Chief Electoral Officer notice of which country they will vote at before the election. But if you are registered as a voter on the roll in that country where you are based, you do not have to give us a notice, you can just come up on election day and vote. It has become more convenient because the previous legislative frame said, as long as you are overseas, give us a notice where you are going to vote. So we’ve changed that. We’ve made it convenient. We are going to be encouraging all our overseas voters to go on our online application to be on the voters roll so that they utilise that platform to register now as voters. They don’t have to wait for a registration date that we will do some time in January for those that can visit our embassies. The difficulty obviously for expats is that they have to go to an embassy or consulate of South Africa to vote. For some of them, it means a two hour flight to get there. As things are, there’s no postal voting for South Africa. There’s no electronic voting. So, those who we intend to vote for in 2024, we encourage them to start planning for that trip in May next year to go and vote.”

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