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South Africa: EFF and MK Party Dominate South Africa’s Online Election Debate

According to the report, the EFF generated many discussions about the repositioning of Naledi Chirwa - moving her from 40 to position 200 on the party's MP list.

In the lead-up to South Africa’s 2024 national elections, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and the uMkhonto weSizwe Party (MKP) are dominating the online conversation, according to this biweekly report from the Centre for Analytics and Behavioural Change, which analyzed the conversation between 18 March and 1 April 2024.

According to the report, the EFF generated many discussions about the repositioning of Naledi Chirwa – moving her from 40 to position 200 on the party’s MP list.

Chirwa was unable to attend the Budget speech in Parliament in February because of an emergency involving her sick child. As a result, the opposition MP was penalized and had to apologize for her absence during the country’s Budget speech. This apology was prompted by a warning from the party leader, Julius Malema, who said that any members who skipped the vote to impeach Western Cape Judge President John Mandlakayise Hlophe on February 21 without legitimate reasons would face consequences.

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This sparked extensive online conversations, with numerous individuals expressing their views.

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Court challenges and car accidents

As for the MK Party, mentions focused on the failure of the African National Congress (ANC) court case that aimed to deregister the MK Party. The High Court dismissed the case, allowing the MK Party to continue participating in the elections.

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The ANC had argued that the MK Party was erroneously registered and should be struck from the ballot.

The CABC noted that the lead-up to the case was marked by allegations of a predetermined outcome, partially mobilized by a pre-judgment press conference organized by the governing party. However, the post-judgment conversation was characterized by the praising of the judiciary, with various high-traction posts commending the court’s decision.

Former president Jacob Zuma’s car accident was also a significant topic of conversation around the MK Party. Zuma was involved in a car accident while travelling in KwaZulu-Natal, and the incident was the topic of many discussions online.

The report also detected allegations of foreign interference – from a TikTok video (reaching nearly 100,000 views across two posts) that discusses the history of U.S. involvement in coups throughout the developing world.  that speculates that the United States is engaged in planning a variety of coup attempts targeted at BRICS nations, particularly South Africa. The video explores both “successful and unsuccessful attempts from past decades“. The video suggests the U.S. might be planning coups in BRICS countries, including South Africa.

As “evidence,” the video cites South Africa’s attempts to gain Western election observers (through the Democratic Alliance (DA) and Multi-Party Charter ( MPC) and its lawsuit against Israel at the International Court of Justice. The implication is these actions will be used to justify intervention through South African opposition parties, particularly those in the MPC.

People who shared the video, especially the post with over 1,000 likes and retweets and 85 comments, seemed to be encouraging viewers to vote for the EFF and MK Party. These parties were presented as the best defense against Western influence.

The online conversation around the South African elections between March 18 and April 1, 2024, generated over 320,000 mentions. The report highlights the election of 44-year-old Bass irou Diomaye Faye as the President of Senegal, which “sparked discussions” among some South Africans urging “their compatriots” to vote for a young leader like the EFF’s Julius Malema.  The report also notes that #VoteEFF2024 was the most used hashtag, with over 21,000 mentions, followed by #VoteMK2024. These hashtags were used to mobilize support for the respective parties.

In late March, the CABC observed a surge in “discussions regarding Vladimir Putin’s continuation in power in the Russian Federation.” There were 6,182 mentions of the keyword “Putin” in conversations, focusing on March 18 after the announcement of election results for the general election in Russia. Many observers have raised concerns about the integrity of these election results.

The discussion about Putin’s re-election in the Russian Federation was relatively small compared to the overall mentions recorded by the CABC. However, the South African presidency’s congratulatory message received a range of reactions. Some people saw Putin’s retention of power as a positive development, associating it with a victory for “contextual” democracy and the Russian people, as well as a shift in the BRICS block’s balance of power. Andile Mngxitama, leader of the now-defunct Black First Land First party and a recent ally of the MK Party, compared the situation to Lula’s return to the Brazilian presidency and suggested that “Zuma would be next“.

IEC Faces Criticism

The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) implemented a rule allowing voters to cast their ballots outside their designated voting district, provided they inform the commission between March 15 and May 17, 2024. However, some expressed frustration that they missed the IEC’s communication about this rule.

The DA and former president Jacob Zuma questioned the integrity of the electoral commission, with the DA’s request for Western nations to monitor the elections, despite civil society’s efforts to encourage independent public members to oversee the process. Zuma has also criticized the IEC, saying that he intends to change election laws, arguing that the emphasis on the secrecy of one’s vote is intended to prevent voter intimidation and ensure that voters feel comfortable while casting their ballots.

Disinformation Spreads Online

The MK Party and some supporters of former president Jacob Zuma accused the ANC of being involved in Zuma’s car accident, with claims ranging from “weakening” his security to outright “attempted murder”. These allegations have been made by accounts such as @ProfMoya, which received significant engagement, and @goolammv, which has a large following. “The post was liked almost 600 times and retweeted by more than 200 accounts. These unsubstantiated allegations qualify as disinformation,” reports CABC.

The CABC had previously recommended keeping a record of all allegations containing election mis- and disinformation, and these accusations can be traced back to the first elections report. “Allegations that Ramaphosa’s ANC was trying to assassinate Zuma can be traced back to our first elections report.”

Zuma’s detractors also contributed to the spread of unsubstantiated allegations, with claims that the car accident was “staged” to increase security detail and protection leading up to the elections. The @goolammv account (which has more than 90,000 followers) alleged that the former president’s car accident was “staged” so that Zuma could get increased security. These allegations, shared widely on social media, highlighted the prevalence of misinformation surrounding the former president’s accident.

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