Manyi’s ATM adds prayer to campaign strategy

The ATM’s supporters at a rally in the Western Cape yesterday. Picture: Palesa Dlamini
The ATM’s supporters at a rally in the Western Cape yesterday. Picture: Palesa Dlamini

The African Transformation Movement (ATM) surprised everyone when it garnered an unexpected 30% vote in a recent by-election in the Eastern Cape, coming in behind the ANC but faring better than the EFF and the United Democratic Movement.

Now many are taking note of the party that counts former ANC member Mzwanele Manyi among its members, and which is tipped to do well in next month’s elections.

The party, which was formed a year ago, is using an unusual strategy to garner support.

As the ATM intensified its campaign this week – seeking to strengthen its support in coastal areas while growing its support in inland provinces – it became clear that it was targeting different societal organisations, including religious groups and traditional leaders.

At a rally yesterday in Masakhane in the Overberg district in the Western Cape, members addressed each other as “servant” and opened the gathering with a prayer.

There was an isiXhosa interpreter for every speaker, constant references to the Bible and a choral precision in their singing that was more reminiscent of a charismatic church service than a political rally.

ATM national chairperson Mandisa Mashiya said: “We have been in the political space for not more than a year, but we have managed to draw many people into the party. It is in the nature of the party.

"We were established by indigenous churches – this is where the party came from, they are big churches and this is why we did well in Nyandeni in the Eastern Cape.

“The spiritual father of the ATM stays in that region and canvassed support for the party in the area. It’s more than just churches; he knows the traditional leaders in the area and was also instrumental in getting them to advocate for the party.”

Branch executive committee member Doris Mkhapheni agreed, saying: “We are going to win. I am 110% sure because the church is also involved and we already have big numbers.

“For example, just our church has got more than 6 million people, so if other churches also have millions and millions of people, the ATM should win comfortably.

“Of course, I know not all people in the church affiliated with the party will vote for the party, but even if 80% do, they can be expected to win comfortably,” Mkhapheni said.

Yesterday, Mashiya unveiled Samuel Niekerk as the party’s provincial premier candidate for the Western Cape.

Niekerk is the bishop of Kunjalo Love Fellowship, a church with 28 congregations.

Voyolwethu Tulumani, a local resident who attended the gathering “out of curiosity” and who supports the ANC, said: “This party is clever – they appoint leaders who already have churches and many people under their leadership so that they can influence them to join they party.”

ATM provincial chairperson Mbongeni Jali, however, said the party was doing well because its different policies encouraged ubuntu.

He said the ATM could have won by an even greater margin in Nyandeni’s Ward 21 by-elections were it not for “numerous irregularities”.

“We have evidence of the fact that names of known deceased individuals and individuals who do not reside in the area were among those who cast votes in the by-elections,” he claimed.

“As a party, we have sent a letter of complaint to the Independent Electoral Commission airing our contentions over its handling of the elections.”

Jali said that, just as the ANC won in 1994 because South Africans were unhappy with the apartheid government, “we will win because South Africans are tired of the governing party and the opposition parties who have all been tested in one way or the other”.

“We are not politicians in the traditional sense,” said Jali, who stressed that the ATM’s policies were rooted in religion, ubuntu and other values that promote servanthood and the valuing of the citizenry – the party was not made up of politicians who prioritised themselves at the expense of those they should be serving.

He added that the problem with how South Africans supported parties these days was that they did so in a manner similar to how football fans supported their clubs.

“Whether they do well or not, supporters remain loyal. Whether a certain player/politician is no longer playing well, they still support them.

“Some players in this politics game are being played based on prior form and reputation, and it’s no longer because they are still able to contribute in a meaningful manner.”

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