Former intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils at the launch of the Sidikiwe Vukani ‘Vote No’ campaign. Picture: DANIEL BORN
Former intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils at the launch of the Sidikiwe Vukani ‘Vote No’ campaign at Wits University in Johannesburg on Tuesday. The campaign is calling on voters to vote for small parties or to spoil their ballots by writing ‘NO’ across them. Picture: DANIEL BORN

FORMER intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils hopes to double the number of spoilt ballots in the May 7 elections, enough to scare large parties, especially the governing African National Congress (ANC), to make them change their ways.

Mr Kasrils on Tuesday launched a campaign to encourage South Africans to vote against the party that he called home for more than 40 years, or spoil their ballots.

Mr Kasrils, along with former South African Communist Party leader Vishwas Satgar and former deputy health and defence minister Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, all former high-ranking members of the tripartite alliance, launched the Vukani Sidikiwe ("wake up, we are fed up") campaign at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, on Tuesday.

The campaign starts three weeks before the polls, arguably the toughest yet for the ANC.

The party is struggling to arrest a falling out among its labour allies in the Congress of South African Trade Unions, deal with service delivery protests and the outcry over state expenditure on President Jacob Zuma’s private home in Nkandla.

The campaign is aimed at encouraging those disgruntled with the ANC ’s governance to spoil their vote on May 7 if they cannot identify a party that reflects their aspirations, or to vote "tactically" for a smaller opposition party to chip away at the ANC majority.

The Vukani campaign has attracted dozens of high-profile signatories, including former director-general of environmental affairs Horst Kleinschmidt, former vice-chancellor of the University of South Africa Barney Pityana, and award-winning cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro.

The campaign is also supported by civic organisations including the Awethu Platform, the Democratic Left Front and civil society organisation Democracy From Below.

The ANC has gone from ignoring the campaign at the weekend to rejecting it outright on Tuesday as "disruptive and counter-revolutionary". ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe said those involved in the campaign "had no moral authority" to chastise the ANC.

"They can start their campaign but they will just be another voice."

The Electoral Commission registered 239,237 spoilt votes in the 2009 national elections and with scandals in government surrounding Mr Zuma, social unrest and service delivery protests — less than a month ahead of the polls — the Vukani Sidikiwe campaign is expecting this number to rise.

However, on the day of the launch the idea got a mixed reaction from those who attended, and politically affiliated student structures for and against the campaign demonstrated outside the venue.

The launch of the campaign follows unprecedented factional fights in the Congress of South African Trade Unions, with its largest affiliate, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa), deciding not to campaign for the ANC.

Numsa set up a United Front to co-ordinate worker and community campaigns and to research the viability of setting up a worker or socialist party. Both Mr Satgar and Ms Madlala-Routledge expressed support for this initiative.

Political analyst and former Rand Daily Mail editor Allister Sparks also attended the launch.

Political analyst Somadoda Fikeni said that the campaign was largely "symbolic" but also showed an urgent need for the ANC to address internal discontent to avoid a long-term cumulative effect.

With Natasha Marrian