MK Party and the IEC’s funders: Is the IEC unbiased?

Former South African President and leader of the newly formed uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK) Party, Jacob Zuma (R) arrives the Constitutional Court hearing in Johannesburg on May 10, 2024, over his eligibility to stand for parliament. Picture: Phill Magakoe / AFP

Former South African President and leader of the newly formed uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK) Party, Jacob Zuma (R) arrives the Constitutional Court hearing in Johannesburg on May 10, 2024, over his eligibility to stand for parliament. Picture: Phill Magakoe / AFP

Published May 13, 2024


The IEC is a permanent body mandated by the constitution to manage free and fair elections.

Recently the IEC has had to intervene in a number of matters directly affecting Jacob Zuma and the MK Party.

Although pre-emptively pronouncing on whether the institution is fair or not ahead of the elections is not constructive, it is important that citizens are aware of who the IEC partners with, and what the agenda of those partners are.

Impartiality disputed

According to researcher Vimlesh Rajbansi, the IEC’s impartiality can be disputed because of some of the partnerships it has created. On July 4, 2023, the IEC announced a partnership with Media Monitoring Africa (MMA). It has also partnered with Google, Meta, and TikTok. The IEC says that this is to curb disinformation around elections.

A closer look at MMA’s donors reveals a group of funders, some of whom have been funding the opposition in South Africa. Some of its donors include the Open Society Foundation, The Raith Foundation, The Oppenheimer Memorial Trust, UNICEF, and the ELMA foundation.

Three of these funders belong to the same grouping, the Independent Philanthropy Association of South Africa. Namely, the Open Society Foundation, The Raith Foundation, and the Oppenheimer Family. As philanthropy is not a regulated activity, one wonders what purpose this association serves.

There is definitely a conflict when it comes to the Oppenheimers. According to Rajbansi, they are on record with donating over R80 million to political parties that are opposed to the ANC, the EFF, and Jacob Zuma’s MK Party. These parties are the Democratic Alliance (DA), Action SA, Mmusi Maimane’s Build One South Africa, and Songezo Zibi’s Rize Mzansi. The DA, Action SA, and BOSA’s funders are known to be staunch supporters of Zionist Israel.

International intervention

Rajbansi notes that some of these political parties have recently sought intervention from the US government. After the US falsely accused South Africa of busting sanctions and selling arms to Russia, the correspondence between opposition parties, notably the DA, as well as US State Department officials continued to undermine South Africa’s sovereignty.

The DA wrote to US Secretary of State Anthony J Blinken and specifically referred to the MK Party as a risk to South Africa’s elections. They wrote:

"The MK Party led by Jacob Zuma is set to gain significant support in KZN which may have concomitant implications at the national level. We are of the view that the MK poses a substantive risk to the continued peaceful nature of the political discourse as a nation."

Policy influence

Some of these funders wield significant influence over the policy trajectory of these political parties. According to Rajbansi, these funders “...for example, the Oppenheimer Memorial Trust invests in climate change and renewable energy with the aim to decommission our coal fleet, oppose new nuclear power, and advocate for solar and wind power (IPPs)”.

Rajbansi writes: “The policies of the funders to the aforementioned political parties and MMA, as well as the political parties' policies on energy and privatization, are therefore in conflict with the policies of the MK Party and Jacob Zuma. In other words, if Jacob Zuma does gain significant support in KZN as the DA's letter states, it will have significant negative outcomes for the DA, ActionSA, and its funders at a national level regarding energy policies as well as other policies.”

Incentive to remove Zuma from the Ballot

Applied to the concerns raised by the DA in its letter to Anthony Blinken, "substantive risks to the continued political discourse as a nation" about climate change, nuclear power, renewable energy, water crises, health crises, privitisation as the media and political parties have been publishing to us as a nation over these years.

There is a clear political and policy incentive for Jacob Zuma to be removed from the ballot. This would enable the “continued political discourse as a nation” that is referred to in the DA’s letter to the US Secretary of State.

The current dispensation of the ANC under President Cyril Ramaphosa are the likely ideological and policy bedfellows of the DA, which has stated on numerous occasions that they would be partial to a coalition agreement with the ruling party.

So is the IEC independent?

This is something that we will only be able to tell by its actions after the fact. It is disturbing that an institution so critical to safeguarding our elections could be infiltrated by funders that have in the past displayed malign tendencies.

Rajbansi writes that it is crucial for South Africans to be informed about the full extent of funding from all donors to Media Monitoring Africa. There is no disclosure of such funding on their website. For an organisation to have such reach into South Africa’s democracy, it must be transparent.

The Oppenheimer family’s reach into South African politics is well known. However the exact amounts, origin and purpose of this funding must be disclosed publicly.

In the interest of democracy, the government must close these loopholes that are open to interference from state actors, private funders, and capital interests in potentially manipulating our democracy.

* This is an ongoing IOL investigation.