Our obsession with the ANC is keeping us from engaging about what is really important. We fail deliberately in rescuing the public dialogue, writes Ralph Mathekga.
President Cyril Ramaphosa and Deputy President David Mabuza congratulate each other at the ANC's Nasrec conference. Photo: Felix Dlangamand
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There is no requirement in law that leaders should declare donations made to internal campaigns. It is not correct to impose some kind of standard after the fact, and to do so with respect to only one campaign, writes Jessie Duarte.
With the Public
Protector's report on allegations against President Cyril Ramaphosa heading to
court for a judicial review – and the question of whether she overstepped her
mandate under scrutiny – the report has nevertheless placed the issue of
political funding in the spotlight.
The matter has
been seized upon by political opportunists of all shades to damage the president
and undermine the renewal effort that he is leading. The Twitter bots have come
to life and even some media outlets have gotten in on the game.
Yet, this is an
important issue with which society should engage. It is an opportunity to have
a public discussion about political contestation and funding. The calls for
President Ramaphosa to "come clean" are misplaced and unfair. There
is no requirement in law and there is no convention that leaders should declare
donations made to internal campaigns. No
other leaders in the ANC have done so and no other parties have done so. It is
not correct to seek to establish and impose some kind of standard after the
fact, and to do so with respect to only one campaign out of many.
Ralph Mathekga: Party Funding Bill a damp squib without regulation of internal party campaigning
It is also unfair
to do so when the fundraisers in this case, as is the norm, made a promise to donors of
confidentiality. The leak of the details of some donors should not change that
reality, which some choose to forget, is that democratic contestation costs
money. In a multi-party democracy, parties need to deploy resources to reach,
persuade and mobilise voters. The electorate needs to be able to form a view on
the policies, ideological persuasion, track record and personalities of the various
parties. In a vibrant and highly-contested political terrain such as ours, a
great deal of money is spent on elections.
Across the world,
donors give money to political parties and leaders for campaign. In many cases
– one hopes in most cases – they do so because they support the policies and
programmes of the party. They often do so anonymously and without expectation
of personal reward. But, as we have learnt, funding of elections and the other
activities of political parties can distort or even corrupt the democratic
process. It is for this reason among others that the ANC championed the
adoption of the Political Parties Funding Bill, which places certain
restrictions on the raising of funds and requires greater levels of
transparency and accountability.
This is a historic
development – which some parties vigorously opposed – that will have
far-reaching consequences both for the political process and parties. As the Electoral
Commission (IEC) puts in place the mechanisms to implement the bill, parties
will need to come to terms with its implications.
Parties Funding Bill does not extend to leadership contests within parties.
These are voluntary organisations that have their own constitutions and rules
to govern internal activities. It is not clear whether legislation can or
should regulate such contests.
For its part, the
ANC sees the current public debate as an opportunity. In responding to the
Public Protector's preliminary findings, President Ramaphosa's legal team went
to great lengths to explain the funding and operations of the CR17 campaign,
providing a level of transparency and detail that no other presidential
campaign, past or present, has done.
Therefore, at its
most recent meeting, the ANC national executive committee (NEC) accepted the president's
suggestion that the organisation have a discussion on its approach to internal
For years, the ANC
has referred to the principles contained in the Through the Eye of a Needle
document, but is now asking whether it provides sufficient guidance in such a
contested environment. While some try to pretend otherwise, ANC leadership
contests have, over time, begun to take a form not unlike a national election
campaign. Groupings coalesce around different candidates and campaign for them
through meetings, rallies, social media and other forms. To support these
activities, all of these campaigns raise funds and nearly all ANC leaders are
involved in the campaigning in one way or another.
In addition to
what may be termed "legitimate" campaigning, other tendencies have
also emerged that subvert the democratic process, such as vote buying and even
intimidation. As the president said at the NEC: "If we are to put an end
to the politics of factionalism, patronage and the unbridled contest for
resources, we need, among other things, to have an honest discussion about a
new approach to internal leadership contests."
The NEC of the ANC
will be presented with options for discussion that will however, ensure that
the branches of the ANC remain the core decision makers of who leads the ANC at
The ANC will
therefore be looking at whether it should clearly define forms of campaigning
that are permissible and those that are not. Should it accept that major
internal contests now involve the establishment of a campaign machinery with
many of the resources and functions of our traditional election campaigns?
discussion will consider what guidelines are needed on fundraising. How does
the organisation ensure that there is greater transparency and accountability?
Does it place limits on funds that can be raised, and how can it ensure that
state resources aren't abused.
For the ANC, this
is not simply about setting new rules. It is fundamentally about ensuring that
leadership contests do indeed produce the best cadres to lead transformation.
It is about using leadership contests to unite and strengthen the movement, and
use them as platforms for political education and cadre development.
The ANC is
undertaking this process of its own accord, understanding that democracy
consumes resources, but determined that these resources should not be allowed
to consume democracy. We hope that all parties and all South Africans will
seize this opportunity for a necessary and meaningful debate.
- Jessie Duarte is the Deputy Secretary General of the African National
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