Political party funding has 'a darker side in the evolution of our democracy' – IOL


By Sipho Seepe Time of article published Nov 24, 2021
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By Sipho Seepe
In its basic manifestation, democracy is an expression of the will of the people.
The expression of this will in the form of the government of the people, by the people, and for the people, is ritualised periodically through the elections.
But this comes at a cost.
It is precisely for this reason that our Constitution has made provision for the funding of the electoral system.
Society has also come to terms with the fact that money is the lifeblood of democracy. It oils the election machinery.
Registering a party, embarking on an election campaign, and putting in place the required logistics all require some form of funding. On its own, this is not a problem. The challenge arises when money assumes such a role that it begins to undermine the will of the people. The challenge is about shielding the electoral system from being corrupted by those with resources. It is about ensuring that the will of the people is not supplanted by the will of the rich.
This is where the Political Party Funding Act of 2018 comes in. The act is meant to promote transparency and accountability in our democratic system. The act seeks “to provide for, and regulate, the public and private funding of political parties … to prohibit certain donations made directly to political parties; to regulate disclosure of donations accepted; to determine the duties of political parties in respect of funding”.
To shield the electoral system from foreign influence, the act prohibits parties from accepting donations from foreign governments or foreign government agencies. The only exception is with regard to earmarked for training or skills development of a member of a political party; or policy development by a political party. But this is easier said than done.
For one, there is a dialectical relationship between the funders and political parties. Funders are in the main business people driven by what’s in it for them. This is true whether they are foreign or local. They would seek to fund parties that share their ideological predisposition. A capitalist funder is unlikely to support a socialist inclined organisation.
Funders equally use their resources as a bargaining tool. This enables them to influence or nudge parties to adopt certain policies in exchange of the support they provide. As they say, there is no free lunch in politics.
The funding of the DA by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, Mary Slack reportedly running the Oppenheimer Memorial Trust, and Danish liberal democracy programme must be seen in this light. The same is true with Patrice Motsepe’s donation to the ANC. For his part, Motsepe has never tried to hide his political affiliation. Neither should he.
Further, the decision by Naspers to fund the DA and the seeming absence of outrage from the media fraternity undermines its role as a watchdog. Naspers has removed all pretence of playing the role of neutral and objective observer and conveyor of news.
The signing of the Political Funding Act into operation in April this year was long coming. It did not happen by accident. Arguably the Political Funding Act is a reflection of the evolution of our democracy and of the ruling party.
Early in our democracy, both funders and parties were wary of disclosing who their funders were. Given the fact that a large chunk of business is transacted with the government, funders harboured the suspicion that their support for opposition parties would frustrate their dealings with the government.
With many of the ANC leaders co-opted into the boards of big corporations such fears have since dissipated. Funders have gained a sense of comfort from the knowledge that individuals they have co-opted into their boards would rush to shield them from any reprisals that may arise.
ANC members have attributed the seeming reluctance by the current ANC leadership to faithfully implement the party’s resolutions to the role that money plays in the organisation. For this grouping, developments in the ANC fly in the face of the party’s long held principle that ‘“no member may use his or her position to advantage oneself for personal gain, or use money to influence the outcome of ANC processes”. Party members have attributed the party’s current financial woes to the disclosure requirements of the Act.
It is thus highly conceivable that funders may also have an influence in the current discussion around coalitions. The DA has been crystal clear on its stance in that it “will not be entering into any coalition agreements with the EFF, the ANC and any other party that does not subscribe to constitutionalism, the rule of law, a social market economy and a capable state and non-racism”.
This could be a case where the interests of the funders and those of the party are mutually reinforcing each other. This includes “weakening the ANC over the two years ahead of the 2024 elections, but more importantly, we want to bring them below 50% in those elections.”
The role that many play in politics opens a door for “mutually corrupt relationship” among the players. In the most vulgar form, funders become instant beneficiaries of the government business. The prevalence of this phenomenon in the current administration is a matter of speculation. However, rumours that certain individuals and companies that funded Ramaphosa’s presidential campaign in 2017, have since scored big in terms of tenders or influential positions in the government, should be a matter of concern.
Until such time that the names of those that funded Ramaphosa’s election campaign are known, the voters would remain clueless. Secrecy regarding this issue undermines the claims of promoting good governance.
The use of money has also a darker side in the evolution of our democracy where funders have seized the opportunity to fund as many black parties as they can. The intention is not to promote multiparty democracy but to use funding as a powerful strategy to dilute the vote of the historically disadvantaged.
Beneficiaries of apartheid and colonialism understand that, in the absence of any revolution taking place, Parliament remains the only platform through which economic transformation can be effected. It follows that the best way of derailing economic transformation is to divide the black vote while you simultaneously consolidating the white vote.
It comes as no surprise that 27 years into democracy, the country remains trapped in the reproduction of apartheid socio-economic relations.
*Seepe is a deputy vice chancellor – institutional support, University of Zululand.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL and Independent Media.
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