Elections 2021: Phumzile van Damme leads charge against political parties spreading disinformation

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Parties spreading disinformation could face serious sanctions in the lead up to this year's elections.
Parties spreading disinformation could face serious sanctions in the lead up to this year's elections.
OJ Koloti/Gallo Images via Getty Images
  • Former DA MP Phumzile van Damme has teamed up with civic organisations to stop the spread of disinformation during election campaigns.
  • Van Damme, Right2Know, Code For Africa, Superlinear, Dr David Rosenstein and Witness Africa have teamed up to monitor political campaign messages.
  • South Africans will vote for new councillors and mayors on 1 November.

Some civil organisations and prominent individuals have come together to form a project tackling disinformation and misinformation ahead of the upcoming municipal elections.

The 2021 Local Government Anti-Disinformation Project is a collaborative programme with partners that include former DA MP Phumzile van Damme, Right2Know, Code For Africa, Superlinear, Dr David Rosenstein and Witness Africa.

According to the Local Government Election 2021 Disinformation Project, parties can be fined up to R200 000 for spreading false information.

READ | Elections 2021: IEC, DA in court battle over reopening of candidate registration process

According to Van Damme, the Disinformation Project's Coordinator, they hoped that political parties would see their work as an opportunity to reflect on how they communicate with voters. 

She said: "Disinformation contributed to billions of rands in the destruction of property and to the loss of over 300 lives in July 2021. Politicians must not use their words recklessly and endanger lives.

Phumzile van Damme
Phumzile van Damme.

"We ask South Africans to join us and stand united against those who use disinformation to spread hatred on the grounds of race, nationality and incite violence in the quest for power," she said.

READ | Elections 2021: IEC remains steadfast on decision to reopen candidate registration

The IEC Code of Conduct prohibited political parties from "publishing false information about other parties" and "generally abusing a position of power, privilege or influence to influence the outcome of an election".

These sections read together prohibit political parties from spreading disinformation - false, inaccurate and misleading information spread deliberately to deceive and manipulate the public for political gain.

Parties that violate the IEC Code Of Conduct can face:
  • Being fined up to R200 000;
  • Having to give up the party's election deposit;
  • Being stopped from working in an area;
  • Having their votes in an area cancelled; and
  • Having their party registration cancelled

According to the IEC's Code of Conduct, political parties were also prohibited from bribing voters and from abusing a position of power to influence an election's outcome as well as using language that provoked violence or intimidation of voters.

Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma declared 1 November 2021 as the new date for the local government elections.

The Local Government Election 2021 Disinformation Project said it would be monitoring communication from political parties using technological tools and data science for any disinformation in violation of the IEC Code of Conduct.

Any instances of disinformation detected would be reported to the Electoral Court.

READ | Election to go ahead between 27 October and 1 November, orders ConCourt

Adebayo Okeowo, programme manager at Witness Africa, said: "In order to avoid the harm caused as a result of disinformation, I encourage South Africans to always turn to trusted sources for their information during these elections and whenever in doubt, they can use some simple verification tactics, which we intend to share during the course of this project."

Commenting on the upcoming elections, Lazola Kata from Right2Know said: "We trust that all regulations, especially associated with disinformation, are followed, and in instances where they are not followed, the Electoral Court will be decisive in its penalty and follow-through."

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