/ 25 November 2011

DRC ‘ballots’ doing rounds in Johannesburg

South Africa has emerged as a key part of the battleground for the November 28 elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

South Africa has emerged as a key part of the battleground for the November 28 elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) — from the printing of ballot papers (some of which appear to be on the streets of Johannesburg) by Robert Gumede’s 4 Rivers Trading company — to the provision of air support by the South African National Defence Force for the delivery of the ballot papers.

DRC opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, was in the country for three weeks in November, while agreements between DRC President Joseph Kabila and President Jacob Zuma for the Grand Inga Dam project were signed just ahead of the highly-contested elections.

Through a spokesperson, Gumede, the controversial billionaire businessman who has been embroiled in a legal battle with the department of home affairs over a R2-billion tender, said he could not speak about the printing of the DRC ballots because of “signed confidentiality agreements”.

But a source close to 4 Rivers Trading confirmed the company won the tender to print the ballots on November 4. They were printed in the Western Cape, Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.

The M&G travels to the Democratic Republic of Congo ahead of the upcoming presidential elections, where the threat of violence and unrest simmers as veteran opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi takes on President Joseph Kabila in a fight to the finish.

Although the source would not reveal the cost of the tender, the DRC’s 2006 ballots, which were also printed in South Africa, by Ren-Form, was $50-million (R400-million). But those elections were on a smaller scale than the present one.

This year, 32-million registered voters will make their mark at more than 63 000 polling stations to vote for 11 presidential candidates, including Kabila and Tshisekedi. There are also more than 18 000 parliamentary candidates who are running for 500 National Assembly seats, which means some of the ballot papers consist of 56 A4 pages. The overall cost of the elections has been reported to be $1.2-billion.

It seems that some of the ballot papers are in the hands of members of the Congolese community in Johannesburg. The Mail & Guardian has seen two presidential ballot papers and two pages of the National Assembly ballot papers, which appear to be authentic. But attempts to confirm their authenticity with the Commission Electorale Nationale Indépendante, the DRC electoral commission, were not successful by the time of going to print.

The DRC ambassador to South Africa, Bene M’Poko, dismissed the possibility. “The reason we came to South Africa to print the ballots is because we trust the country’s security,” he said. “No one will have that ballot paper at this point, not even the chairman of Commission Electorale Nationale Indépendante or me.”

He accused Congolese citizens distributing what he termed the “fake ballots” of working for Tshisekedi to tarnish Kabila’s name.

Vincent Tohbi, the Kinshasa head of the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa, said the electoral commission appeared to be “doing their best” to deploy the materials. But he understood that, although all the ballot papers should have been in the DRC by Thursday afternoon, many would not have reached some of the more remote areas. Friday was the deadline for all material to be delivered to their stations.

“The serious logistical challenges of the electoral commission are the same as they were from the start,” said Tohbi.

Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Lindiwe Sisulu, who visited Kinshasa last weekend, told the M&G that South Africa was not aware, until last Sunday that the DRC electoral commission was struggling. “When we got here we realised that they have bigger problems. They can’t transport ballots to 210 sub-hubs from the 13 hubs that South Africa was asked to deliver to.”

The defence force deployed seven aircrafts this week, in addition to the four that were already on the ground, to assist with transportation.

While Tshisekedi was in South Africa, from October 21 to November 10, he held an “economic summit”, which was hosted at the Rosebank Hotel by a group called Africanised. A source close to the Tshisekedi camp in South Africa confirmed that the veteran opposition leader also met Mathews Phosa, the ANC treasurer. But attempts to reach Phosa and to get confirmation from both the department of international relations and the ANC were unsuccessful.

Some are questioning the timing of an agreement to kick start the estimated $8-billion to $10-billion Grand Inga Project on the Congo River, which has been under discussion for years. It was finally announced on November 11, the day after Tshisekedi left the country to return to the DRC.

The SANDF provided transportation and accommodation for Mmanaledi Mataboge’s recent visit to the DRC. Sally Evans is a member of Amabhungane, the M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism.