#PaidTwitter: IEC responds to alleged ANC 'war room' electoral code breaches

The Independent Electoral Commission says it will only comment on allegations that the ANC broke the electoral code once public relations strategist Sihle Bolani's case against the party has been concluded. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

The Independent Electoral Commission says it will only comment on allegations that the ANC broke the electoral code once public relations strategist Sihle Bolani's case against the party has been concluded. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) responded on Wednesday to allegations that the ANC violated the electoral code during an alleged covert campaign for last year’s local government elections, saying legal processes should be concluded before judgment is cast.

The IEC released a statement on Wednesday to say it had noted media reports on the campaign but would not comment until the courts had made a decision on a case involving a dispute between the ANC and public relations strategist Sihle Bolani.

Bolani attached documents to her court application that revealed that the ANC had allegedly planned a “black ops” campaign worth about R50-million.  The team in charge of the campaign was initially dubbed the War Room, and Bolani said she was contracted to be part of the group. The IEC said it would only comment on allegations that the ANC had broken the electoral code once Bolani’s case had been concluded.

“These claims are contained in sworn affidavits which form part of an active civil court case and the Electoral Commission believes this legal process should be allowed to be concluded and that it would be premature to comment on such allegations,” the IEC said.

Bolani filed a court application at the Johannesburg High Court because she said the ANC owes her R2.2-million for work she did during the campaign. But the ANC says Bolani did not sign an agreement with the party.

Bolani’s court documents show that the campaign team had planned to print fake Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) posters and spread pro-ANC content through social media “influencers”. The goal of the campaign was to discredit the EFF and the Democratic Alliance (DA).

The manufacturing and distribution of fake posters and the dissemination of misinformation in election campaigns are violations of electoral codes and thus criminal offences. The posters were never printed, but misinformation may have been spread through influential Twitter users who were paid to share pro-ANC content.

The IEC said it was aware that the ANC has denied such allegations. ANC spokesperson Zizi Kodwa and secretary general Gwede Mantashe have both said the party had never authorised such a campaign.

On Wednesday, DA leader Mmusi Maimane said in a statement that his party would ask the IEC to investigate the allegations against the ANC.

“As the evidence mounts and more people come forward to confirm the existence of the ANC’s covert fake news propaganda machine, I will request the IEC to investigate possible violations of the Electoral Act when I meet with the chapter nine body in coming weeks,” Maimane said.

Some Twitter users have claimed that they were recruited to be part of the campaign, but their claims are yet to be verified. Pictures of the purportedly fake posters the alleged covert campaign team had designed have also emerged on social media.

The IEC has refrained from commenting on the saga, but said it would take action if necessary.

“Should circumstances require the Electoral Commission to take any further action it will not hesitate to discharge its duties and obligations,” the IEC said.

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