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Government trying to make it impossible for independents to stand for Parliament, says Zackie Achmat

BY An Wentzel

Elections are a fight for numbers – but so is getting on the ballot in the first place. Attempting to run in 2024 as an independent, Zackie Achmat, known internationally for his Aids activism, says the South African system is rigged to keep independents out.

Under the uncaring eyes of the statue of Jan Smuts outside the Iziko Slave Lodge, about 100 people gathered to wait for Zackie Achmat to address them at 12.30pm on Tuesday in Cape Town’s busy city centre.

Most of those assembled were longtime supporters of Treatment Action Campaign co-founder Zackie Achmat. Many wore #UniteBehind T-shirts and almost all had known Achmat for many years – if not directly, then through the organisations in which he has been involved. Achmat is a director of the #UniteBehind civil society group.

The gathering was to launch the longtime activist’s “signature collection campaign” which aims to get him enough individual signatures so that he can stand in next year’s general election.

When introduced, Achmat started by thanking everyone who turned up, as well as “the comrades from the Klipfontein district, who demonstrated for their hospital, because working-class people in our country are suffering, particularly in relation to health”. However, he said, he was “here for a different purpose today”.

He then spoke about how the rules for independent candidates were set up to make it almost impossible for them to succeed and make it to the polls.

“I’m here to say the government is making it impossible, or is trying to make it impossible, for individuals like me to stand for Parliament.

“In the past, political parties needed 1,000 signatures to register as parties. I have to collect 13,201 to get on to the ballot and we know you can’t read my handwriting, so we will make mistakes – so instead of 13,000 we’ll have to get at least 15,000.

“Those signatures have to be written by hand and then we have to load them up to computers for the IEC [Electoral Commission], and then we have to take the hard copies to them… that means we need at least 500 volunteers to go door to door.”

He said that to win a seat in Parliament, “I have to get more than 80,000 votes, whereas a political party needs 47,000 votes. So, I need double the amount of votes than the ANC, the DA, EFF, ACDP, Rise Mzansi.”

Another obstacle, he said, is that independents can only get their votes from the provinces they are situated in, while parties can garner theirs from anywhere in the country. The IEC website says that to register, a national-level party needs “a Deed of Foundation signed by 1,000 registered voters who support the founding of the party”, while to register a party at provincial level the signatures of 500 registered voters are needed.

However, an independent candidate needs “15% of the previous election’s quota in supporter signatures [to register] for a seat in national or provincial legislatures”.

ConCourt challenges Changes to the Electoral Act to enable the participation of independent candidates have been criticised for not levelling the playing fields and the Constitutional Court in August combined two cases – brought by the Independent Candidates Association (ICA) and Mmusi Maimane’s One SA Movement. Maimane’s movement wants the number of signatures that independent candidates need to be lowered, while the ICA is focused on the seats allocated for independent candidates in the National Assembly.

Achmat and his supporters want him in Parliament to “bring the voice of the people to Parliament”. Speakers at the event on Tuesday said he was well known to them and their communities – as an activist on not just Aids issues but also health and human rights including safety, housing and sanitation. Mama Jane from site B in Khayelitsha, who had come to represent “the elderly from the ages of 60 to 80” and “knows Zackie for a long time”, said that anyone who is here to place a vote for Zackie will “do so without fear”. “What we want Zackie to do when he’s in Parliament is to tidy up our communities; our communities are filthy. People are filled with hunger, Khayelitsha is flooded with dirty water, there is no sanitation, so we want Zackie to provide these services for us.” Achmat told journalists that Parliament needed to be a place for the people to be heard and find solutions.

“Unless we fix Transnet, Eskom, Sassa [SA Social Security Agency], Home Affairs – I can’t fix all that, I’m an individual, what I can do… is be in Parliament and work with MPs of integrity. We have to reclaim Parliament. I say to people, ‘I am not going to be your voice in Parliament – I want to take your voice into Parliament. I want to bring you back.’” Achmat’s campaign spokesperson confirmed to Daily Maverick that “currently, we have just over 4,000 signatures. We need 13,201 but Zackie is aiming for 15,000 to account for errors.”

This article by An Wentzel was first published on 22 November 2023, on Daily Maverick.

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