Cents and Sensibility: Political parties funding secrets remain safe

By Simphiwe Yana

Earlier this year, President Cyril Ramaphosa signed the Political Party Funding Bill into law, which means it is now law for political parties to reveal where they get their funding from each year. However, it will not come into effect before the 2019 elections. UFS law student Simphiwe Yana says there’s still no transparency if voters don’t know who’s really footing the bill.

The 2019 general elections are upon us. And as the euphoria around these much-anticipated elections continues to deepen, my conflicted reaction towards them continues to intensify.

I’m excited on the one hand because I will be joining other young South Africans, usually referred to as ‘born-frees’, as a registered prospective voter. In so doing, I will be exercising this cardinal right that was achieved as a result of the bravery of apartheid struggle heroes. This is undoubtedly a source of excitement and optimism for me. As a patriotic South African citizen, it is particularly important for me to have a say in how the affairs of my country are handled.

Through the process of voting, I will be entrusting power to certain representatives whose ideological background and plans are in line with the ideals I have for my country. A concern for me, on the other hand, is that it feels like I will be going into the voting station blindfolded.

The disclosure of funds that political parties in South Africa receive has been put back into the spotlight and rightly so, considering the looming general elections. It is interesting how calls for more transparency, spearheaded by an NGO called My Vote Counts, happened on the back of a series of damning revelations that have emerged about the murky world of political party funding in South Africa. The most notable ones being about the Economic Freedom Fighters who were reportedly found to have accepted donations originating from controversial businessman, Adriano Mazzotti, and the ANC receiving funds from the controversial company Bosasa. Bosasa chief operations officer Angelo Agrizzi testified at the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture in January and said the ruling party approached Bosasa and requested funds for electioneering.

In my view as a born free, these scandals raise questions about the strength of our democracy and how easily it can buckle under undue influence from funders of political parties.

On 23 January 2019 President Cyril Ramaphosa signed the Political Funding Bill into law. The African National Congress released a statement saying that the party welcomed the move.

“The ANC has consistently supported the principle of regulating funding for political parties. We view this as an important milestone in strengthening our democracy and enhancing transparency as a cornerstone of our democracy,” says the statement.

“We are encouraged that this law is a practical expression of the ANC’s unwavering commitment to the constitutional values of fairness, equity, accountability and transparency. We have no doubt that this law provides the country with an opportunity to deepen our democracy and usher in a new culture of transparent funding for political parties,” the statement continues.

According to the bill, there is a cap of R15 million that one person can donate to a party per year and a donation of less than R100 000 does not need to be declared. A statement released by the presidency states that political parties may not accept donations “from organs of state or state-owned entities, foreign persons including entities from foreign governments and or their agencies – other than for the purposes of training or skills development of a member of a political party or for policy development by a political party.”

The Political Party Funding Bill was drafted in November 2017. This after pressure mounted on the legislature to bolster transparency by enacting laws that will force political parties to disclose the sources of their funds.

So, what does this mean for me and other born-frees that will be taking to the stations this year? Not much it seems. We will not be privy to information about the funders of the political options that we have in time for us to make informed decisions about our choices.

From where I’m standing, taking away my right to know who has a financial interest in our political parties is disarming me from making an informed decision about voting and choosing a party that does not only represents my values, but has my best interests at heart. When I vote, I want to vote with a clear conscience, knowing that I will be establishing a relationship of trust with whoever I will be giving my vote to. But how do I trust you when I do not know your dealings?

Access to this information is important for me because at the core of our constitutional democracy is my right to vote, and, at the core of my right to vote is, by extension, my right to be informed about who funds our political parties. This is especially true in the context of South Africa, where corrupt individuals have sought to gain influence from parties by buying them. As it stands, I will not know this information by 8 May. It seems like Lady Justice’s blindfold has been put over my eyes too. I will be stepping into that ballot box blindfolded.

More stories in Issue 109

Contributors

Simphiwe Yana

Simphiwe Yana hails from Gansbaai in the Western Cape. He is a freelance writer and a law student at the University of the Free State. He runs a multimedia blog called Afrika Revolt.

Links

SA voters will go to 2019 elections none the wiser about who funds political parties

As of 1 March 2018, the Electoral Commission has published the draft regulations for the Political Party Funding Act for public comment. This means South Africa is one technical step closer to a more transparent political funding regime. But there’s bad news for anyone hoping to have clearer information on party funding before the upcoming elections: the act is expected to take at least three years to be implemented fully.

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Funding Bill may hit smaller parties hard

The bill should also be developed to prevent donors influencing policy to the detriment of the electorate, an expert says.

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