ANC secrecy, ‘shallow accountability’ loom large

Cyril Ramaphosa delivers the ANC election manifesto at the Moses Mabhida Stadium last month. There is nothing to hint that the ANC has learnt anything about transparency in political party funding, says the writer.

Cyril Ramaphosa delivers the ANC election manifesto at the Moses Mabhida Stadium last month. There is nothing to hint that the ANC has learnt anything about transparency in political party funding, says the writer.

Published Mar 9, 2024


With hotly-contested elections around the corner, there was a lot of breathless speculation before the February 29 Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC’s) latest Party Funding Disclosure Report on donation declarations for the third quarter of 2023/24 (October – December), but the actual figures did not clarify the two most important questions.

How reliable are the declarations of sources of income given the ANC’s rushed adoption last week of the Electoral Matters Amendment Bill in the Home Affairs Committee that will provide it with a more significant share of the available funding for political parties and independent representatives than previously provided.

As well as the controversial candidate list compilation process across parties meant to exclude the same fund-raisers implicated in corruption and other scandals from becoming eligible for election?

And how many voters will support the ANC and other major political parties in the false belief that they are on their side in halting the looting of state assets to enrich corrupt party leaders?

But we can at least say with certainty that most of the political parties in parliament are not now and never have been fully pro-transparency and accountability on political party funding – while new parties that will contest elections for the first time promise to be.

Naturally, that is not how the ANC and other parties in parliament tell the story. Seven parties have declared donations during the quarter, with recently registered RISE Mzansi topping the list.

They are: RISE Mzansi (R16744186), ActionSA (R13912450), ANC (R10m), Build One SA (R8.5m), Patriotic Alliance (R7 096380), DA (R2608009), IFP (R191040).

“The total value of donations declared for the third quarter of the 2023/24 financial year is a noteworthy R59 052 066,” read the IEC statement.

It said there had been a steady increase in the value of donations disclosed for the third quarter, “which is in some ways indicative of the heightened fundraising activities by political parties in preparation for the upcoming elections”.

However, some of the regular donors to several political parties –including members of the Oppenheimer family – have probably already exceeded the maximum cumulative donation of R15m permissible in a single financial year, making newer political parties appear to be the flavour of the moment for funders as the elections approach.

What about the governing ANC? Once in office after the May 2018 elections, the ANC, which campaigned as a different kind of party to the one led by its former president, Jacob Zuma, primarily governed as a standard dominant party. Its promises to rebuild SA’s trust in an open and caring government – which drew pushback from the Zuma-aligned faction – became a running joke.

One of its most significant legislative achievements was passing the law under pressure from civil society armed with a Constitutional Court judgment.

Then the party flip-flopped, first endorsing the provisions of the legislation, then a few years later siding with its radical faction in denouncing it and mulling amendments to allow for increasing the threshold that parties can disclose, saying: “We are looking at reviewing the legislation because, at some stage, although it provides openness, it has unintended consequences. Donors do not want to fund the party because of the act,” said ANC national executive committee member Joe Maswanganyi after the party’s national conference in December 2022. It wants an increase in the R15m disclosure to R50m or R100m.

Populism! This attempt at legislative “reform” could gutter the existing framework without any workable replacement, causing a perpetuation of existing loopholes that enable corruption.

Crucially, there is nothing to hint that the ANC and those parties in parliament supporting it learned anything from the state capture experience that exposed corruption that fed patronage.

In particular, these parties still appear to believe that transparency in political party funding hurts the funders when, in fact, its deficiency burden falls on us all as citizens. All indications are that another ANC term as a dominant party in government will be marked by more secrecy, just as severely conceived as its current term.

I do not know how many South Africans know about these legislative initiatives. How many realise that the Ramaphosa era has been promising good for transparency until midterm when things started to go sideways?

Regarding the Political Party Funding Act, 66.6% of available funds are allocated based on the proportional representation of the party in the legislature and 33.3% on an equitable basis.

The Bill that the committee has adopted changes this to 90% proportional, which benefits large parties, and 10% equitable.

Independent elections expert Michael Atkins explained what each represented political party would get under the adopted formula.

The ANC’s share would rise from 43.38% to 53.92% and the DA from 18.32% to 20.9%, while those of small parties would decline more than 50% in most cases.

With today being the deadline for political parties to submit a list of their national and provincial candidates to the IEC before elections, political parties feel pressured to exclude members implicated in the state capture report.

At least 97 ANC members are in the state capture report, and the Veterans’ League has repeatedly stated that the party should bar those implicated in the state capture report from standing as public representatives as it taints the party’s image.

The party’s rules stipulate that individuals facing criminal charges should step aside from their positions.

How does the DA’s record compare? After facing allegations of nepotism from opponents hoping to scupper his chances to become KwaZulu-Natal Premier, uMngeni Mayor Chris Pappas has been cleared after a provincial Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) investigation found the allegations related to contracts awarded to his ex-fiancé and former DA councillor, Jean-Pierre Prinsloo were baseless.

In short, there is a reason for citizens to remain vigilant in choosing election candidates they trust to bring about change that will uplift everyone and not just those with the financial muscle to bankroll parties.

However, some political analysts predict that traditional supporters will vote for their usual party anyway, imagining it is on their side.

However, the current ANC under Cyril Ramaphosa is not a populist party. It is a poseur. When making actual policy instead of speeches, its leaders prioritise secrecy and shallow accountability.

How many of us will vote based on this reality? I guess we will find out.

* Nyembezi is a policy analyst researcher and human rights activist

Cape Times