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South Africa: Analysis Reveals Polarized Views on South Africa’s Electoral Process

A new report by the Centre for Analytics and Behavioural Change (CABC) sheds light on the polarized online conversation about South Africa’s upcoming elections. The report, titled “Bi-Weekly Social Listening Updates & Recommendations for Electoral Engagement #7,” analyzed over 350,000 mentions between April 16 and April 30, 2024.

One concerning sentiment identified by the analysis is the belief held by some individuals that “poor service delivery is intentional and that if the government wanted to fix the country’s socio-economic problems, it would. “This perspective resonates with those who feel that “resources that could have been directed towards improving the lives of South Africans are wasted during the campaign season.”

The report also noted sentiments from users who argue that political parties and their leaders will do “anything” for votes, as evidenced by posts showing individuals wearing the African National Congress (ANC) regalia helping members of the public with tasks like plaiting hair and handwashing clothes.

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The online conversation on the forthcoming elections and political climate garnered nearly 350,000 mentions from 16 to 30 April 2024. The primary subjects discussed included the release of the Economic Freedom Fighter (EFF)’s Vuka! Vela! Vota! advertisement, allegations that the uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) Party falsified signatures to register with the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC), and internal leadership disputes within the party that resulted in the removal of co-founder Jabulani Khumalo.

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Some supporters of the MK Party have accused the ANC of using both Lennox Ntsodo and Khumalo to destabilize the party. These supporters claim that Ntsodo made allegations about forged signatures.

According to CABC, individuals who openly express their political affiliations often face criticism from those who do not align with the same parties. For instance, people who declare their allegiance to the ANC are unfairly labeled as deserving of hardship and unemployment. Similarly, supporters of the EFF are accused of lacking patriotism, and those who back the MK Party are regarded as naive for expecting change from a former president during his retirement.

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Former President Jacob Zuma’s Candidacy with MK Party Sparks Debate

A major topic of conversation was the controversy surrounding former President Jacob Zuma’s candidacy with the MK Party. Pro-Zuma’s perspectives indicated a belief that “Zuma and the MK party are being targeted by the Judiciary and IEC before the election and that Zuma’s arrest in 2021 was unlawful and an act of persecution.” On the other hand, critics felt that “the Electoral Court ruling was unsatisfactory or biased.”

The impartiality of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) itself came into question after a meeting between the IEC and the American Embassy sparked concern and conspiracy theories. Online influencers extended the narrative that the meeting was “evidence of the IEC being captured by foreign interests.”

Concern and conspiracy around the role of the American ambassador were noted from both political actors and individual accounts, with EFF deputy president, Floyd Shivambu, describing the meeting as a “serious cause for concern”.

An account claiming to be Duduzile Zuma-Sambudla suggested that the meeting proved the necessity of manual vote counting. It is worth noting that vote counting in South Africa is already conducted manually.

South African head of public diplomacy, Clayson Monyela, and the IECaddressed speculation surrounding a meeting and dispelled mis- and disinformation-laden narratives. They clarified that meetings between host nations and diplomatic officials are common practices internationally when elections are due to be held within a country.

In addition, the report highlighted calls from civil society to “protect the independence of the SABC” following a leaked audio clip in which President Cyril Ramaphosa discussed the ANC’s plan to challenge media organizations that report negatively on the party. According to reports, an unidentified individual instructed the State Security Agency to conduct a background check on Moshoeshoe Monare, the head of SABC News. This instruction came in conjunction with the release of an audio clip.

The CABC has noted that EFF president Julius Malema has indicated that the party will seek to take News24 to the electoral court, ostensibly for biasedreporting.

During the reporting period, CABC observed light-hearted conversations on NewzRoom Afrika that targeted independent candidates. These posts and responses often mocked the candidates’ perspectives and their choice to wear sunglasses during television interviews.

Mis- and Disinformation

Misinformation and disinformation campaigns were also detected, targeting Mozambican citizens being registered in South Africa ahead of elections in Mozambique. Claims of electoral manipulation were noted, though the IEC refuted these claims and emphasized the shared responsibility of engaging in voter education before the election.

The CABC has previously detected election manipulation narratives targeting Mozambican citizens. AfricaCheck has recently debunked these claims.

Claims of electoral manipulation were made about a video showing individuals from the ANC‘s voter education program. The program utilizes dummy ballots to explain the new three-ballot system introduced for the 2024 National General Elections, while also campaigning for the governing party. In response, the IEChas dismissed the claim that pre-election voting was depicted in the video. They emphasize that voter education is a shared responsibility among civil society, political parties, and the IEC itself.

The CABC identified manipulated political imagery targeting the EFF. The image, which has been photoshopped, shows EFF president Julius Malema alongside a slogan that reads, “Putting South Africans first is xenophobic, I don’t want your xenophobic vote.” The image was shared by an account aligning itself with the #PutSouthAfricansFirst movement.

As the online debate continues to rage, the CABC report underscores the deeply rooted polarization and skepticism surrounding South Africa’s electoral process, fueled by concerns over transparency, impartiality, and the intentions of political parties and leaders.

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