Johannesburg - General Bantu Holomisa says the May 7 vote will be rigged by “rogue elements” within the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) who will facilitate the underperforming ANC.
In his trademark droll, the 58-year-old leader of the United Democratic Movement (UDM), told The Sunday Independent in an extensive interview this week that the ANC is mindful of the hammering it will get at the polls and it is for that reason alone “they don’t want to remove some people in the IEC which have been involved in the scandal of leasing of buildings”.
This could be a not so veiled reference to IEC chief Pansy Tlakula, who was the subject of a Public Protector report last year amid allegations of procurement irregularities at the elections body.
Though she has taken the matter to court to prove her innocence, Holomisa’s suspicions remain heightened.
“The ANC is very concerned (about shedding votes), hence they are pinning their hopes that those rogue elements will run the elections, so rigging will be on the high. There is no doubt about that.”
In recent weeks he wrote to the IEC on behalf of opposition parties, requesting a joint briefing with all party heads about preparedness and readiness for May 7.
They wanted to know if the ballot papers would have serial numbers printed on them and how many ballot papers would be distributed to each voting station.
They also wanted to find out which IT company has been appointed to count the votes.
The allocation of media airtime to the various political parties was another point of concern, as well as the role of international and national observers on polling day.
“For example, the IT company could be a subsidiary for (the ANC’s investment wing) Chancellor House. It is possible that it is a front for the National Intelligence Agency,” says Holomisa. “We don’t know and we needed to find out.”
That meeting is scheduled to take place in the coming weeks.
After a bruising defeat in 2009, when the UDM party barely scraped on to the polling radar, Holomisa has been notably prominent in this campaign. He drove news headlines earlier in the week when he announced his unexpected alliance with Mbhazima Shilowa, formerly of Cope, who has promised to help him secure his footing again in his home province in the Eastern Cape.
Five years ago, the UDM was all but annihilated when they took only 0.85 percent of the national vote and in the Eastern Cape they lost their position as the official opposition party to centre-right newcomers Cope. Shilowa has now promised to bring his 800 000-strong faction in Cope to the UDM and the two men will meet again on Tuesday to finalise who from that faction will make it on to the UDM’s list.
Yet, late last year Holomisa took a swing to the left when he pitched up at the launch of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) at Marikana, showing unwavering support for Julius Malema’s new political party.
“I like the boy,” he says of Malema. “He’s got guts. And he’s doing very well. The media made the mistake of underestimating him. But I began to take him seriously the day he appeared in court (in 2011) to defend himself. I could see what he was made of then.”
“That’s why I immediately accepted his invitation to the launch,” Holomisa explains.” Even this past week, I was invited by him personally to attend the launch of the manifesto.”
“General, my leader. Please make a turn at Tembisa,” Malema asked when he called him. “Man, unfortunately I’m in the Eastern Cape chairing a list conference,” Holomisa had responded.
“But otherwise I would have been there to support him,” he says now.
Together they make an unlikely political force. All three parties – the UDM, Cope and the EFF – are made up of former ANC members, yet each one is built on very distinct ideological beliefs. With the EFF on their far left and a former Cope faction on their right, does the UDM not confuse its voters with such a mixed ideological alliance?
His flat answer is no.
“The UDM supports social democracy and we don’t mince our words. We say the state must intervene in the economy, but we are not pushing for nationalisation. You can’t be a president of France if you are not going to subsidise farmers, for example. The same for China. The UDM is saying the same thing here and if the state doesn’t intervene, we believe we are marching towards a second revolution, if it hasn’t already started.
“Take the mining sector. What is wrong with saying, ‘Come, mine here. Take 49 percent. We will take 51 percent and retain those shares in a trust for our people. I don’t believe in taking everything. I believe in social democracy and I can’t speak any other language.
“I assisted the ANC to ascend to power and campaigned for them in 1993 and 1994. We thought by now that the Transkei would have been far better off but instead it’s going backward. Infrastructure is collapsing. We need a change.”
Though he took little more than 3 percent of the provincial vote in 2009, he suggests the Eastern Cape is “up for the taking this time round. And I’m not only looking at becoming the official opposition party, but I’m looking at taking the province, through a forced coalition”.
In addition to the Shilowa faction of Cope and Malema’s EFF, Holomisa has also been talking to Mamphela Ramphele of Agang SA.
“I said, ‘Mama, after elections, let’s see whether we can not compare notes for a coalition.”
Though he is one of very few parties who would venture into talks with Ramphele today, following the shambolic alliance with the DA last month, Holomisa believes the Agang leader escaped from the debacle relatively unscathed, “because she will be credited for having listened to her party and turning back from the DA. She realised her mistake”.
Zille, on the other hand, did not fare so well and was shown up “for using blacks as stepladders”.
“She is taking us backwards. Her own constituency doesn’t even seem to be very comfortable with her anymore in these campaigns. You will only see a sea of African faces at her rallies and you ask where is her party chairman and other executives from her party? Where are the coloureds?”
Holomisa has taken particular offence at Zille’s comments in Parliament last week about the influx of students from the Eastern Cape into the Western Cape, because of the collapse of the education system in the neighbouring province.
Two years ago she broached the same issue by referring to the young learners as “refugees”, words that she was eventually forced to apologise for.
“And now she is at it again,” says Holomisa. “I think her caucus, which is dominated by ex-National Party members, seem to have gotten hold of her. We have a unitary state, not a federal state. You can’t talk like that.”
Each time she does, he believes it’s a blind gift both to the ANC and the opposition parties, as voters are fearful of a return to the past.
“Things are changing now,” he says. “And I think we will see real change in this election. The opposition parties are all talking to one another, even if we don’t have formal arrangements.”
Despite his grand ambitions, Holomisa’s UDM is not a well-funded party and they do not have the means to rely on PR companies to ensure he has a permanent presence among the media.
“For instance, to launch the manifesto alone, it cost us close to R2.3 million. We are now busy with campaign material and it will become more costly as we intensify the campaigns. But I don’t even want to worry myself about how much we will spend.”
“Our approach now is to phone people and ask them to pay for printing, or posters or whatever we need instead of getting money. I don’t need capital. I need support.”
He adds: “I’m hoping we can get 5 or 6 percent of the vote, nationally. That’s what I think we can do now. We have changed our tactics this year and it is working. We are strong.”
Though that would be a remarkable improvement on 2009, it hardly secures him a place in the big league. And yet he is setting his sights on taking over the Eastern Cape in a forced coalition, and looking at making considerable improvements in the North West, where the EFF is also strong.
“What you don’t understand is how much people want change. I have Cope members talking to me, ANC members talking to me. Our people are bitter. That’s why I say this election can be the beginning of real change in South Africa. It will come slowly, but it is coming.”