ATM party expects poll miracle
The African Transformation Movement (ATM) is banking on its proximity to church groups to win an ambitious 2-million votes in next month's election - and the fledgling party has already shown it can shock the heavyweights.
The party is hand-in-glove with the Twelve Apostles Church in Christ headed by Caesar Nongqunga, a close ally of former president Jacob Zuma.
Founded only last year by an NGO called the South African Council of Messianic Churches in Christ, the ATM contested its first by-election last month - and won an astonishing 30% of the vote.
The ATM - whose latest high-profile recruit is former government spin doctor Mzwanele Manyi - lodged allegations of election fraud with the Independent Electoral Commission over the poll in ward 21 of the Nyandeni local municipality in the Eastern Cape.
The party said it would have done even better if the vote had been free and fair. The ANC retained control of the ward with 65%.
The nerve centre of the ATM is in the town of Ngqeleni in Nyandeni, about 30km from Mthatha.
Party activists and campaigners gather in Nongqunga's home in the town every morning before going out to campaign.
Nongqunga's church wields strong influence in the area.
ATM president Vuyo Zungula said the party would win close to 2-million votes on May 8 if the congregants of large African independent church formations such as the Zulu Congregational Church and St Johns Apostolic Faith Mission supported it.
"We are a party that has been formed through the support of faith-based organisations," Zungula said. "We are supported by community-based organisations [and] we are supported by other political parties which contest at a local level."
He said about 500 churches endorsed the party.
Zungula said the churches his party appealed to were "closely knit", so if the leadership of the church threw its weight behind the ATM then the congregation - often numbering in the tens of thousands - would follow suit.
He said the party stood a good chance of winning outright majorities in the Western Cape and Eastern Cape, but would probably not do as well in KwaZulu-Natal.
In Ngqeleni, supporters and leaders of the ATM told the Sunday Times their community-based approach, and voter disillusionment with the ANC, helped them achieve their result in the by-election last month.
Zwelinjani Sibuta, a resident of Nzwakazi village near Nongqunga's home, runs a small-scale farming project named for the church leader, along with Bongani Nongqunga. It employs 17 people, many of whom are ATM supporters."We plant vegetables . and we are also going to include chicken farming," he said.Sibuta, an ATM campaigner, said the project had helped to win support for the party."We are a party of peace and development . If we can win on May 8, we would bring more such projects that will empower people and bring jobs," he said.Local resident Zimbini Mahambehlala, 21, said she decided to vote ATM because under the ANC she had struggled to get work and could not see any development."We don't have water. In 2012 they installed taps for but water only came out for two months," she said.High-profile defectors to the ATM include former DA Eastern Cape MPL Veliswa Mvenya and former ANC provincial treasurer and transport MEC, Thandiswa Marawu.