The Democratic Alliance is due to have a meeting on Tuesday morning with the Independent Electoral Commission to voice its concerns about the conduct of the African National Congress during the 2016 local government elections. Amongst the complaints to be raised is the revelation that a secret War Room was set up to try and counter the negative press that the ruling party has been getting, by spreading falsehoods about opposition parties.
"The DA is adamant that a full investigation must now be conducted in order to get to the bottom of this," said Mabine Seabe, spokesperson to the DA leader Mmusi Maimane.
The details of the War Room were revealed in court documents filed by communications expert Sihle Bolani last week. She is suing the ANC to recoup R2.3 million that she incurred for the work she did in setting up and running this committee.
The documents name ANC general manager Ignatius Jacobs, activist Shaka Sisulu and businessman Joseph Nkadimeng as key personnel behind the scheme.
The ANC has also distanced itself from the War Room through its spokesperson Zizi Kodwa and the secretary-general Gwede Mantashe.
Sisulu has denied all knowledge and Jacobs has threatened to sue Bolani for "defaming my good name". However, the City Press on Sunday published a story based on recordings of meetings between her and Jacobs in which he displays an apparent working knowledge of the War Room and its activities.
At one point, Jacobs is recorded saying to Bolani, "I, personally, was trained in propaganda, deception, subterfuge, political warfare, spyworks – I know what must be done. But I left it. I thought Joe [Nkadimeng] and Shaka [Sisulu] would be okay. If I had the resources, we'd be way ahead now."
So what exactly was wrong with the 'black ops' campaign?
The Electoral Act contains the Electoral Code, which is "aimed at promoting conditions that are conducive to free and fair elections and that create a climate of tolerance, free political campaigning, and open public debate", and lists several activities which are banned. These include "publishing false information about other candidates or parties", and "plagiarising any other party's symbols, name or acronyms".
According to Bolani's court papers, Sisulu and a Mr Bongani Sibeko (named in the Bolani documents as "a political campaigner with international experience") decided that the War Room campaign should "develop and plant EFF posters to disarm the opposition." Crucially, though no evidence was provided to Bolani to show that this tactic had been implemented, the document says that the posters "did not attract any attention."
In spite of the denials from War Room personnel, the EFF have complained that they had to remove fake posters in the run-up to the elections, including one depicting a poorly-Photoshopped image of the party leader Julius Malema holding an assault rifle.
This campaign is nothing like influencer campaigns that periodically appear on social media, as it appeared to be intended to fool the electorate into believing falsehoods about an opposition party. The intention wasn't to help people understand the ANC better, but to use false information to discredit the EFF and DA in the eyes of the voters. It hardly needs saying that this is not the basis for conditions that promote free and fair elections.
What could happen next?
It depends on whether or not the electoral court finds that the War Room's activities were indeed a breach of the code that can be blamed on the ANC. If this is the case, the individuals involved could be found guilty of a criminal offence and can be fined or sent to prison for up to 10 years.
Political parties that breach the code can be fined up to R200,000, have to give up the party's election deposit, be stopped from working in an area, have their votes in an area cancelled and can even have their party registration cancelled.
It all now depends on how the IEC decides to take this forward. If a court finds that all those fake posters can indeed be linked to the War Room, and that the ANC had tacit knowledge of the committee's activities, then a lot of people will be in very serious trouble.
Also on HuffPost SA: 6 Fake Posters Allegedly Produced By The ANC's War Room Team