TWENTY-TWO years into democracy, political party funding still remains a closely guarded secret.
Besides the funds disbursed from the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) and Parliament’s disbursement to parties represented in the national legislature, very little is known about the private donors, companies and individuals who sponsor various political parties.
The secrecy around the parties’ funding became more evident recently through an application by My Vote Counts through the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) for political parties to disclose their private donors.
My Vote Counts describes itself as a “campaign formed by citizens and members of existing civil society organisations concerned with democracy and social justice”. It says on its website that the campaign is not affiliated to or aligned with any political party and that membership or affiliation is open to all South Africans of voting age “who share our objectives”.
Of the 13 political parties represented in Parliament that the NGO had asked to disclose their funders, only four had responded.
The four responses did not come from the political parties themselves, but from their lawyers who punched holes in the NGO’s application, saying there was no legislation that forces political parties to publish this information.
Political analyst Xolani Dube, founder of the Xubera Institute for Research and Development, said political parties disclosing their private donors would compromise their chances of getting government tenders. “In some instances, donors function as agents of money-laundering. Disclosing who they are would be exposing them to financial trouble. Some individuals in these political parties benefit in these deals.”
He said the problem with other funders is that the parties did not want the public to know who they were affiliated to because some of them might be questionable. “The problem is the nature of the membership of political parties. It is dominated by pensioners who cannot raise their own funds so political parties have to go out and look out for donors,” he said.
Dube said there are a few conglomerates and individuals who sponsor multiple political parties.
“There are people like your [Nicky] Oppenheimer [former chairman of De Beers diamond mining company] who would sponsor all political parties according to their proportional representation. The Guptas are also funding both the ANC and DA. They have also have had meetings with IFP president Mangosuthu Buthelezi.”
Dube said he expected the 22-year-old blackout to continue.
My Vote Counts co-ordinator Janine Ogle expressed “outrage” that, on the eve of the 2016 Local Government Elections, political parties refuse to publish information about the sources of their private donations. “That there is no legislation that forces political parties to publish this information is not a valid response. Political parties currently canvassing for votes should be willing to disclose this information. It is an insult to the electorate and the South African public for political parties to say this information is not necessary for deciding who to vote for on election day. The electorate needs to make an informed decision who to vote for, and who a political party accepts private donations from is part of the information necessary in making that decision.” (Weekend Witness)