Elections face strike threat

2014-04-06 14:00

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South Africa’s fifth democratic election, scheduled to be held next month, risks being disrupted after employees of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) threatened to strike unless chairperson Pansy Tlakula is removed before May 7.

The threat to strike is a new layer of pressure on Tlakula, who was implicated in a PwC forensic audit as well as a Public Protector’s report into the leasing of the commission’s R320?million Centurion headquarters.

In a meeting with the IEC this week, opposition party leaders Julius Malema and Mamphela Ramphele apparently told Tlakula to her face she must resign.

After the meeting, Malema threatened “civil war” should Tlakula stay in her position.

The ANC has come to Tlakula’s defence, saying the IEC must not be demonised a month before elections and her issues don’t impact the credibility of the elections.

Organisers of the unprecedented strike said it was supported by more than 90% of IEC employees, who have mandated the national negotiating forum – a workers’ structure led by the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union – to enter into talks with IEC commissioners.

The national negotiating forum represents more than 600 of the IEC’s 900 permanent employees, who include managers and deputy managers across the entire commission in corporate services, finance and electoral matters.

Many of them are deputy managers who train temporary employees who act as support staff during elections. The crisis in the IEC has also been exacerbated by the divisions between the commissioners themselves.

Deputy chairperson of the IEC Terry Tselane has distanced the commission from Tlakula, saying that she must deal with her personal issues so that they do not affect the IEC or the credibility of the elections.

In an interview with City Press, Tselane said the Tlakula lease issue had put a cloud over the IEC.

“Technically we are ready, but whenever we talk elections, people keep asking about how credible they would be with this issue still hanging around. Her issue is not our issue.”

Tselane said all measures, including training of staff, ­logistics and the quality of the voters’ roll, were in place, but the IEC remained vulnerable on the political front because of the Tlakula matter.

Contacted for comment, Tlakula said: “I am not talking or commenting on anything.”

The National Negotiating Forum met commissioners on ­Friday to discuss long-standing matters. These include the right for employees to form a bargaining structure which will negotiate directly with the IEC on salaries and other ­administrative matters.

IEC employees were barred from embarking on any strike action after Parliament had labelled their work an essential service.

But the forum said it had a clear mandate from employees, most of whom have been with the IEC for years, to go on strike and place their jobs on the line unless their demands are met.

Sello Kgageng, the forum’s secretary, said commissioners must write to President Jacob Zuma and ask him to remove Tlakula before the elections.

“We understand that the commission in itself cannot ­suspend the chairperson because they don’t have those rights,” Kgageng said.

“It is only the president and Parliament who can take that decision to suspend or to ask her to be set aside. “But for us, we are fighting for internal things like people who are still under the employ of the commission, people who are employees of the commission and being implicated in negative reports.

“Those people let [the issues] be put aside and we run ­elections because if anyone at the IEC municipal offices makes a mistake, they are suspended and are liable for disciplinary action.”

City Press understands that the workers’ views differ with those of Nehawu’s national leaders. The mother body is towing Cosatu’s line by not commenting on the IEC debacle or Tlakula’s woes.

This is understood to be the line followed by Cosatu because its affiliate, the ANC, has already taken a stance to prevent any moves against Tlakula that would jeopardise the ­upcoming elections.

Nehawu’s national executive committee met on Friday and decided to intervene in the dispute to avert the strike action by “counselling” their members about the repercussions of industrial action.

Nehawu spokesperson Sizwe Pamla said the NEC was aware of the “overwhelming” views among its members employed at the IEC.

Pamla said the NEC had decided that national office bearers should be deployed to IEC offices across the country to talk their members out of threatening industrial action because that would have “dire” consequences for the country.

But if Nehawu’s members at the IEC still decided to push ahead with strike action, the union would have to follow the proper processes, Pamla said.

Kgageng said: “We don’t want to see commissioners folding their hands saying ‘that issue is the president’s issue’. All we are saying is that they must knock on the president’s door and say, ‘We are receiving this thing and we are pressurised’.”

Meanwhile, the ANC has been identified as the main culprit in elections-linked intimidation and its fierce KwaZulu-Natal rival the IFP is also implicated, according to new research that will be released this week.

Twenty-four representatives from nine political parties, including the ANC, were interviewed by researchers from the Community Agency for Social Enquiry.

The DA, IFP, National Freedom Party, Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), Agang?SA and the Workers & Socialist Party all told researchers they had been intimidated by the ANC.

The Congress of the People said it faced intimidation in 2009 when it first broke away from the ANC and contested elections, but hardly experienced any now.

Intimidation is unlikely to disrupt the May 7 elections, researchers say, but it affects the degree to which voters feel free to openly show support for the party of their choice. Poorer communities are more likely to experience intimidation.

The report, compiled by David Bruce and titled “Just singing and dancing? Intimidation and the manipulation of voters and the electoral process in the build-up to the 2014 elections”, is set to be released on Wednesday.

Recent incidents of intimidation include:

»?A marquee in Thokoza where the EFF was set to hold a rally yesterday was petrol-bombed. While the EFF blamed it on the ANC, the ANC denied it was responsible and called for the prosecution of those who threw the petrol bombs.

»?In Pampierstad in the Northern Cape, the EFF said that an ANC truck blocked the entrance to a stadium where it had a rally yesterday, even after police asked it to leave.

»?Two ANC members were shot dead last Sunday at the notorious KwaMashu Hostel, north of Durban.

»?ANC spokesperson Jackson Mthembu claimed that a DA SMS saying President Jacob Zuma stole tax money to upgrade his Nkandla home could cause violence.

»?ANC supporters brandished stones and sticks as DA supporters tried to march in central Johannesburg in February.

»The stoning on Human Rights Day of DA Gauteng premier candidate Mmusi Maimane’s convoy in Sharpeville.

A DA interviewee was quoted in the report as saying that intimidation had increased since 2011 as the official opposition had become more diverse and “started posing increasingly that threat to the ANC’s stability as the only party in a given community”.

Researchers note in the report that Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa have condemned instances of intimidation?–?but their supporters don’t always seem to listen.

Case said in its report that the ANC should take “purposeful action” to address the problem and “acknowledge the shortcomings of many of its followers, and the obstacles these present to the potential consolidation of democracy in South Africa”. Toyi-toying and singing and dancing is among the most visible and public forms of intimidation, the report says.

Such forms of intimidation “tend to involve confrontations, where a group of people who are singing, chanting, dancing and/or toyi-toyiing are actually engaging in actions intended to disrupt opposition political parties”.

These actions are often “overtly intimidatory” in nature and involve “mock charges, verbal threats or threatening gestures, invading the area in which the opposition group is meeting, or attempts to drive them out in an area”.

Researchers say this is a violation of the Constitution and the Electoral Act, but perpetrators justify it by saying they have the right to assemble and demonstrate.

Intimidation against the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal has decreased since Zuma became president, researchers found.

An ANC respondent told researchers: “Before 2009 you won’t wear an ANC T-shirt at KwaNongoma because you will either be killed or shot at. Now you can, things have changed dramatically.”

In a few pockets, like Ulundi and KwaMashu, violence persists. Respondents also said intimidation was worse in rural areas, but the NFP reported intimidation in informal settlements and hostels.

The report says fatal violence, other than in KwaZulu-Natal, wasn’t a feature of the political environment any more.

“Intimidation generally does not take this extreme form. Political coercion has instead been adapted to the terrain of democratic South Africa and frequently manifests in the guise of practices that, superficially at least, may appear to be lawful and legitimate.”

Intimidation is usually only stepped up when less severe forms have failed. Even though violence often declines closer to an election because parties’ behaviour is being carefully scrutinised, intimidation has a long-term impact, researchers found.

“Intimidation will continue to have a significant impact on the degree to which people in SA, most notably in poorer communities, feel free to openly support, or even engage with, political parties that are not dominant in the areas in which they live,” the report says.

People often internalise the message that there may be adverse consequences for them if they don’t toe the line. The IEC could yesterday not say how many complaints of intimidation it had received so far.

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