Under apartheid, journalists and other whistle-blowers risked their lives to expose information that would have otherwise been inaccessible to the public; secrecy was used as a form of control. Fortunately, we are now governed by a Constitution that unequivocally provides for access to information. So, why is it that access to political parties’ private funding information still comes in the form of “exposés” as we have witnessed with the CR17 and NDZ campaigns, as well as the State Capture Inquiry? 

On 6 November 2019, My Vote Counts (MVC) and the Right to Know Campaign (R2K) held a joint discussion focused on the slow pace of legal reform regarding the realisation of transparency in private party funding, the need to protect whistle-blowers as well as what this all means for business. 

Alongside our political researcher Zahira Grimwood, R2K’s Ghalib Galant and Amabhungane’s Karabo Rajuili were keynote speakers Business Leadership South Africa’s (BLSA) CEO Busisiswe Mavuso and Political Analyst Ralph Mathekga. The panel made for a robust conversation, with Grimwood the first to speak, emphasising that the right to vote is effectively undermined when voters have no access to information about political parties and more importantly, who funds these parties. 

Show us the money: Panel members from left to right; Busisiwe Mavuso (Business Leadership South Africa); Ralph Mathekga (Political Analyst); Ghalib Galant (Right To Know); Zahira Grimwood (My Vote Counts)

Although the Political Party Funding Act (PPFA) which will allow for the public to access this information was signed into law by President Ramaphosa in January 2019, it has not yet been implemented as the President has not yet gazetted a date for the implementation of the PPFA. In addition, the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) must still finalise the draft regulations on the Act. The IEC held public hearings on 1 and 2 August following the publication of draft regulations for comment between the 1 and 21 March 2019. 

As a result of this halt, political parties can still refuse to reveal their funders if they please. The process towards making the private funding of political parties a legal obligation has been stagnant. In 2018, the Constitutional Court ordered Parliament to amend the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) due to its failure to provide for the disclosure of parties’ private funding information. The amendment of PAIA serves to complement the PPFA in allowing for public access to donations to political parties. 

Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng gave Parliament 18 months within which to amend PAIA so as to provide for disclosure in June 2018 – a deadline which expires on 20 December. However, the National Assembly (NA) only adopted the PAIA Amendment Bill on 6 November 2019 and is set to send it to the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) for concurrence. Failure to complete this process by the 20th of December would require that Parliament apply for an extension, leaving voters in the dark about private party funding for even longer – as they were for the general election in May of this year. 

This speaks strongly to the need to reinstate the relationship between political parties and voters as keynote speaker at our party funding event Ralph Mathekga mentioned in his contribution to the discussion. Speaking to the audience, Mathekga said the reluctance to reveal their funders, is what South African political parties have in common. However, he also emphasised that these parties – even though they are not perfect – are by far the best organisations to process our concerns and that voters can never fully make sense of parties’ decisions in governance if they do not know who funds them.

Making reference to the CR17 campaign which was worth billions of rands, Ralph added that the political economy of party finance is advancing further than we thought in the past. The political analyst said that if someone donates R1 billion towards a campaign, it is important to know who that someone is as this means that the donor sees an opportunity to “rent a president”. This makes it all the more important to know how the donor’s relationship with that president or party affects the voters. 

There have been murmurs within the African National Congress (ANC) that Cyril Ramaphosa tends to turn to his close acquaintances within the business world for advice, such as former Bidvest CEO Brian Joffe and Investec co-founder Stephen Koseff among others. Koseff recently told the moderator Redi Thlabi at the Business is an Adventure event in Johannesburg that her “uncle” (Ramaphosa) needed to take tough decisions but is being held back by [the left wing of] his party. 

He added that he had been saying for months that Eskom needs fixing and that this needed private investment. “Now, [they] hate the word ‘privatisation’, use any word…call it public-private partnerships, call it anything, but just do it,” he said. An insider who spoke to Africa Report in September says that the private sector knows that they have the President’s ear, especially when it comes to economic issues.

Investec also is reportedly among other large corporations whose representatives have attended the ANC’s Progressive Business Forum’s (PBF) breakfast events; the forum invites businesses to engage in dialogue with the ruling party provided that these businesses pay for membership. 

Now, not all donations are bad as the concerns of Koseff point towards the legitimate and urgent need for the overhaul of Eskom which is among other parastatals hollowed out by those who have captured the state to the near collapse of our economy. However, as keynote speaker at our party funding discussion Busiswe Mavuso pointed out, if a business or individual donates towards a party or candidate because they see them as the only hope for a stronger economy, so be it. However, she adds, it should not be an issue when that business or individual is called to account for the said financial support. 

Mavuso says our democracy has been undermined in the past ten years with businesses finding creative and cunning ways to conceal the flow of money between themselves and political parties such as “consultation fees” or “sundry expenses”. She firmly added that the looting of the state could not have happened if business was not complicit; therefore, when politicians are hauled to jail for state capture, CEO’s who colluded with them in capturing the state should follow behind

If we are to strengthen transparency in party funding, it is important to remember that there are those who still risk their lives to expose corruption. Certain State Capture witnesses are known to be living under witness protection as a result of their testimonies and the information they hold regarding the curious and corrupt flow of money between state officials, private parties and corporations. 

R2K’s Deputy National Coordinator Ghalib Galant reminded us that contracts to build the 2010 Soccer World Cup stadiums left a lot of people dead due to corrupt tender processes. Galant added that no one likes whistle-blowers and that they must be protected by law.

Transparency from political parties – in accordance with the PPFA – would make this task easier. Not implementing this Act timeously ahead of the 2021 municipal elections would be to severely undermine the voting rights of the citizens of this country, the revival of our economy and the role of the judiciary by those in the legislature.  

My Vote Counts NPC is a non-profit company founded to improve the accountability, transparency and inclusiveness of elections and politics in the Republic of South Africa. We work to ensure that the political and electoral systems are open, fair and accountable to the public and that they remain relevant in the changing South African socio-political context.