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ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa. File picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA.
ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa. File picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA.

President Cyril Ramaphosa is being taken to court over his address to the nation days before the elections. He has been accused of using state resources to advance his party’s interests just before the much-anticipated polls.

The DA and the MK party (MKP) have approached the Electoral Court seeking orders against the ANC president. The DA wants Ramaphosa to be fined R200,000 and his party to be docked 1% of its votes.

The party argued he contravened the Electoral Act, which prohibits the abuse of positions of power to influence the outcome of the elections. The DA also accused Ramaphosa of contravening the act’s section that prohibits the use of public funds for political campaigns.

The MKP made the same arguments. It accused Ramaphosa of leveraging state infrastructure for partisan gain.

On Sunday, Ramaphosa made a presidential address in which he highlighted his government’s successes, as the sixth administration comes to a close. He spoke about how his government handled the Covid-19 pandemic and dealt with state capture, corruption, the economy and load-shedding.

The address was flighted live on several news channels including the SABC.

In her affidavit to the Electoral Court, DA federal chair Helen Zille said Ramaphosa must be held accountable for what she said were flagrant and severe breaches of the Electoral Act.

“The address was nothing more than a thinly veiled stump speech. He sought to use his public position as head of state and head of government to encourage the public to vote for the ANC. The speech mirrored in several respects the speech he delivered at an ANC rally the previous day,” Zille said.

The rally Zille referred to was the governing party’s Siyanqoba event at the FNB Stadium on Saturday.

“This conduct of Mr Ramaphosa, who is the ANC’s candidate for president in the elections, violated multiple provisions of the Electoral Act,” she said.

Zille argued that while Ramaphosa’s speeches on Saturday and Sunday were not identical, their contents on what his government had done had substantial overlaps. She argued the conclusion of his speech disclosed the true purpose of the address, which was to campaign for the ANC.

Ramaphosa was clearly canvassing votes for the ANC, argued Zille.

“The statements reveal the purpose of the address was solely to solicit votes for the ANC. Mr Ramaphosa is saying voting for a different party, and therefore a different administration, will undermine the supposed ‘progress’ his administration has made,” Zille said.

“The language of ‘renewal’ is exactly the same language the ANC has repeatedly used in its electioneering. In his ANC speech, Mr Ramaphosa said, ‘We are asking that on May 29, you vote for democratic renewal’.”

Zille said it was unclear why Ramaphosa would “feel the need to talk about the work of his government four days before an election other than to seek to persuade voters”.

She said Ramaphosa’s address was unlawful as he sought to dress up his political party campaign as a presidential address. Zille also argued Ramaphosa used public funds to further his party’s interests.

“Mr Ramaphosa used public funds for his address. It was funded by public funds. The presidency’s staff wrote the speech. The presidency placed it on its website and social media accounts. Mr Ramaphosa was purporting to act as president, for which he is paid a handsome salary and receives extensive benefits. Unlike his address at the ANC rally the previous day, this address was not funded by his party, but by taxpayers,” she said.

“The address was a thinly veiled political campaign. It sought to use the conduct of government to convince voters to vote for the ANC. The ANC is entitled to do that when it uses its funds, and speaks as the ANC. The DA does the same. It relies on its record in the Western Cape municipalities it governs to convince voters to give it their support.

“The speech also used another public resource — airtime during an election. That airtime is limited and tightly regulated. Mr Ramaphosa unlawfully sought to circumvent the regulations by masquerading his political election broadcast as a presidential address to the nation.

“The DA is considering whether to also lodge a complaint with the Independent Communications Authority of SA about the president’s and the broadcaster’s conduct. That will turn on whether the broadcast licensees knew Mr Ramaphosa did not intend to give a presidential address. That issue need not concern this court.”

The DA is asking the Electoral Court to declare that Ramaphosa’s conduct breached sections of the Electoral Act, and that he be fined R200,000, which is the “maximum fine that can be imposed” as the offence is of a serious nature.

The DA also seeks an order reducing the number of votes for the ANC.

“The purpose of the unlawful conduct was to increase the number of votes the ANC receives. Given how close it occurred before the elections, it is impossible to unscramble the egg and remedy the unlawfulness by, for example, affording all other parties a similar opportunity. The proper remedy to redress the wrong is to reduce the number of votes,” Zille said.

“It is impossible to determine with any degree of certainty how many votes the ANC may have gained. The DA submits a reduction of 1% of the total votes the ANC received would be a fair reduction. Once the reduction is made, the Electoral Commission of SA will have to recalculate the number of seats awarded in the National Assembly.”

Ramaphosa’s conduct, Zille said, also constituted a criminal offence, which carries a prison sentence of 10 years, a route the DA is considering pursuing.


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