In my profession, before we start getting too smart, it’s always worth remembering that the Afrikaans poet Breyten Breytenbach generally referred to joernaliste – journalists – as hoernaliste.
I recall it here only because the recent uproar about DA leader Helen Zille’s visit to the Guptas for tea (and a “secret” donation of a couple of hundreds of thousand rands to her party) also brought to mind that 100-year-old anecdote attributed to George Bernard Shaw:
GBS: Madam, would you sleep with me for a million pounds?
Actress: My goodness, Well, I’d certainly think about it.
GBS: Would you sleep with me for a pound?
Actress: Certainly not! What kind of woman do you think I am?!
GBS: Madam, we’ve already established that. All we’re haggling about now is the price.
Why is it that I doubt that Zille would have bothered to join the Guptas for tea to celebrate a mere R1,000 donation? But the really serious question raised by the unhappy situation is different. Surely the DA leader – and most certainly her advisors – knew that the Guptas are famously, notoriously, supporters and financiers of the ANC (and whoever happens to be President). So why on earth, did they think, would the Guptas want to make a secret donation of a few hundred thousand to the DA?
Perhaps one needs to have read something about the history of the Sicilian mafia to know the answer: in the post-war decades the mafia always generously shared their criminal takings with the overwhelmingly dominant Christian Democrats – but then “took out insurance” by giving lesser, secret donations to the Socialists as well.
The insurance was not primarily against the Socialists’ winning the next election (an unlikely prospect most of the time); it was to ensure that if they discovered the Catholic government’s financial involvement with the mafia, they’d have to think again before exposing it.
They were themselves compromised.
Did Zille seriously not stop to ask herself, why would the Guptas be willing to make a secret donation to the DA, other than as a means of compromising the major, most threatening opposition party – and, by persuading her to come to tea - her personally?
Secret corporate donations to political parties are secret levers of power. The phenomenon has reached such scandalous proportions in the United States that citizen movements have sprung up all over – on the internet and from city to city and state to state – furiously campaigning to have such donations prohibited and to expose both the secret donors and the public representatives they have compromised or “bought”.
Solutions range from placing legal limits on political campaign budgets, demanding publication of all political donations above a certain amount, prohibiting corporate donations altogether – or having the state fund all registered parties that have a qualifying minimum number of members/supporters.
In the meantime, concerned citizens should openly contribute to the funds of the party of their choice, rather than waiting for the usual free ride, “thanks to our corporate sponsors that have asked to remain anonymous”.
A free ride always comes at a hidden price.
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