Money and politics: a way forward for South Africa

Money and politics are a toxic mix: even more so when there is no regulation of private funding to political parties, as is currently the case in South Africa. The laissez-faire situation that exists in South Africa means companies or wealthy individuals are able to donate money to political parties without any form of disclosure. This creates an environment of secrecy, which in turn could allow corruption to flourish.

The seminar was chaired by Judith February, Senior Researcher in the Governance Justice and Crime Division of the ISS. The speakers were: Dr Zweli Mkhize, ANC Treasurer-General and former premier of KwaZulu-Natal; Lance Greyling, Member of Parliament  for the Independent Democrats/Democratic Alliance; Lawson Naidoo, Executive Secretary of the Council for the Advancement of the Constitution (CASAC); and Greg Solik from My Vote Counts (NGO).

Greyling raised the concerns about the different ways in which the problems surrounding money and politics manifest,. He said that democracy is expensive and political parties need money to campaign and operate effectively, yet there ought to be ‘rules of the game’. He mentioned the numerous efforts (including a DA private members’ bill) that he had made to have this matter debated or acted upon in Parliament, to no avail. Greyling also said that some donors believe that they would be victimised by the ANC if they were found to be DA donors, for instance.

Lawson Naidoo located the problem in the broader context of the challenge of corruption. He noted the need to return to ‘first principles’, namely Section 1 of the Constitution, which deals with transparent, accountable and responsive government. He focused on the role of business and how companies could create policies for donating to political parties. Companies have three choices:

  1. To refrain from making any political donations (as ABSA has done)
  2. To donate in secret
  3. Voluntary openness, while there is no regulatory framework

Naidoo stressed the importance of establishing a regulatory framework in the future. He also suggested that private funding to political parties should be used for deepening democracy – such as supporting research institutes and enhancing debate.

Greg Solik said that unregulated funding poses the threat of a lack of accountability and increasing inequality. He noted that My Vote Counts was considering bringing a legal challenge to ensure that Parliament deals with this matter, given their failed previous attempts to engage Parliament on the issue.

Zweli Mkhize said that this issue was important and that all parties need to be vigilant about corruption. He agreed with the principle of transparency and that the debate should be taken forward in a way that was ‘not political,’ but rather focused on principle. He agreed that the abuse of state resources had to be stamped out. He said that donations ought not to be ‘criminalised’, but that perhaps a democracy fund or ‘open trust’ would make it easier for companies and individuals to make donations in a way that has been agreed upon by parties. He was uncertain about the issue of capping donations, as political parties need funding and establishing a limit would be problematic.

Money and politics: a way forward for South Africa audio recording part 1


Money and politics: a way forward for South Africa audio recording part 2


Media coverage of this event:

Development partners
This seminar was funded by the Hanns Seidel Foundation and the government of Finland. The ISS is also grateful for support from the following members of the ISS Partnership Forum: Governments of Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the USA.
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