Parties could cough up R200k for spreading disinformation during elections - what you need to know

The IEC says five voting stations, In KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape, had not been open by 5pm on Wednesday as a result of ongoing community protests.
The IEC says five voting stations, In KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape, had not been open by 5pm on Wednesday as a result of ongoing community protests.
Image: Alaister Russell/The Sunday Times

Political parties could face hefty fines if found guilty of spreading disinformation and fake news during the local government elections. 

The elections are set to take place on November 1, with a voter registration weekend taking place this weekend.

Minister of co-operative governance and traditional affairs Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma made the announcement last week. 

Applications for special votes will open on September 20 and close on October 4.

What is the fine for parties spreading disinformation?

According to the Local Government Election 2021 Disinformation Project, political parties that violate the IEC code of conduct can be fined up to R200,000. 

Other measures that could be taken include giving up the party's election deposit, being stopped from working in an area, and having their votes in an areaor their party registration cancelled.

The project is a collaboration between former DA MP Phumzile Van Damme, Right2Know, Code For Africa, Witness Africa, Superlinear and Dr David Rosenstein. 

What is prohibited in terms of the code of conduct?

During the election campaign, political parties or politicians are prohibited from bribing voters, abusing a position of power to influence the outcome of an election, and using language which provokes violence or intimidation of voters. 

They are also prohibited from publishing false information about other candidates or parties, plagiarising any other party's symbols, name or acronyms, and offering any inducement or reward to a person to vote for a party. 

Destroying or defacing posters of other parties and carrying firearms or weapons at political meetings, marches, or rallies are also prohibited.

What are the measures in place for? 

Van Damme said she hopes the measures will help guide political parties on how they communicate with voters. 

“We hope they remember how disinformation led to the loss of over 300 lives in July and will not engage in the same in the quest for power,” she said. 

How can voters avoid harm as a result of disinformation?

Witness Africa's programme manager Adebayo Okeowo advises that voters always turn to trusted sources for their information during elections and whenever in doubt. 

“They can embark on some simple verification tactics which we intend to share during the course of this project,” he said.

Lazola Kata, national communication rights campaigner for Right2Know, said: “We trust that all regulations especially associated with disinformation, are followed, and in instances where they are not followed, the electoral court will be divisive in its penalty and follow-through.”