ATM president Vuyolwethu Zungula. (Supplied)
Newcomer to the election scene, the African Transformation Movement, has rubbished claims that it is linked to former president Jacob Zuma.
ATM president Vuyolwethu Zungula told News24 during a sit-down interview this week that, while he found labels such as "pro-Zuma" and "Zuma Party" amusing, he felt it could be detrimental to both him and his party.
"If you look at our gatherings from the first till now, there’s never been one mention of 'viva Zuma, viva!' Not even saying 'hands off Zuma', our manifestos, our documents, there is nothing about his rhetoric or politics that you will find. We have no association with the former president," said Zungula.
The only engagement with Zuma was before the formation of the party, he said, adding that it had been a meeting with independent African churches, something he said other former presidents - including Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki and Kgalema Motlanthe - had done.
Zungula laid the blame with the Sunday Times for spreading "lies". He claimed the Tiso Black Star newspaper had refused to give his party a right of reply and had just referred to it as a "Zuma party".
"Sunday Times was basically spreading lies. We are a party that is formed for the people of South Africa, not to advance and to defend his (Zuma’s) interests," he said.
Former owner of controversial one-time Gupta-owned media house and staunch Zuma ally Mzwanele Manyi joined the ATM in January.
'We have nothing against anyone'
Manyi's involvement in ATM has led to speculation that the party exists to further Zuma’s agenda of attempting to split the ANC vote at the elections.
Read more: Manyi on dumping "captured" ANC and joining ATM
"I find it very funny, because if people actually took time to maybe speak to us, to find out why were we formed, and what do we have to offer the country..." said Zungula.
"Maybe it's because when many parties start, they are against the ANC. We have nothing against anyone."
He expressed some frustration at not often being recognised as the leader of the party, with many referring to Manyi - who is the head of policy and its most prominent figure - as the one in charge.
"Media first says we are a Zuma party and then they say Manyi’s ATM, but if they did basic research, such as finding out when we were established, who are the leaders… it was clear he was joining a party at that press briefing," said Zungula.
The Sunday Times chose not to comment on the claims.