Ripping the veil

ANC elections head Nomvula Mokonyane recently said that the party had spent R1 billion on its campaign in the local government elections. The enormity of that sum is hard to comprehend and, predictably, he backtracked a few days later. But, assuming the ANC did spend close on R1bn, who donated such large sums of money?

Opposition parties too have run expensive campaigns. But no one really knows how much was spent – because of a complete lack of transparency in the funding of political parties.

It’s an old chestnut with a long history in South Africa – and one that has not been addressed. In July, the advocacy group My Vote Counts announced it will take to the courts once more, referencing the Promotion of Access to Information Act (Paia), in a bid to get parties to disclose their sources of funding.

The Institute for Democracy in Africa (Idasa) first took the matter to court in 2005 – without success.  As Institute for Security Studies consultant Judith February noted, some fatigue on the issue may well have settled in – and another extended court battle is exactly what political parties will hope for. But, as she also points out, examples abound of the toxic effect of money on the political process. The voices of the poor and marginalised are drowned out, while big money influences policy decisions.

All political parties agree that transparency is a good thing, but they appear to lose their appetite for it when it comes to disclosing their sources of funding.

We all know about the corrupt doings of the ANC. No surprise, then, when in the local government elections the DA raised their anti-bribery-and-corruption flag as their banner on the battle front. But when we last looked, that party, like all others, was made up of human beings, all of them potentially vulnerable to corruption.

And when it comes to party funding, the mass of DA supporters are not known to be eager payers of DA membership fees, nor are they regular small-time contributors to party funds; on the contrary, they all too often believe they are doing the party enough of a favour by taking time out on election day to actually vote for the party. Like all the other political parties, the DA therefore relies on (mostly secret) big donations from corporations and very wealthy individuals. Is it unreasonable to think they might expect or even be offered a quid pro quo (a property rezoning, the relaxation of a height restriction, a road construction contract, a preferential purchase of some public land are examples that come to mind) in those towns and cities where the party holds power?

In Cape Town, for instance, the DA mayor’s support for the proposed Tafelberg and Maiden’s Cove developments on the Atlantic Seaboard (contrary to the advice of her own planning department officials) has raised eyebrows, given the level of public hostility to the schemes. Some have alleged a close friendly tie between the developer and Mayor Patricia de Lille.

The same applies to the threatened rezoning of the Philippi farmlands, traditional source of fresh vegetables for the city, which would see agricultural land used for township and yet more shopping-mall developments; her support for a high-rise building in the historic Bo-Kaap on the slopes of Signal Hill is widely regarded as cultural sacrilege. Most recently, there has been enthusiastic hype from the mayor’s office in favour of a massive high-rise development planned for the River Club stretch of the Liesbeek/Black River estuary floodplain. The pop catch-phrase to be used – and repeated with breathless enthusiasm by morning radio talk show host Kieno Kammies – is “affordable housing close to the city” Gee! Wow! This, while studiously ignoring the fact that developing below the floodline is never cheap, let alone ecologically desirable. And of course, omitting to say just how much is to be regarded as affordable? And by whom? If you’re a loyal friend of the DA you are apparently not expected to raise such questions.

In January, the ANC’s Truman Prince wrote a letter on the municipal letterhead calling for “sympathetic” construction companies to win tenders, removing all doubt he went on to write: “We want to see construction companies sympathetic and having a relationship with the ANC to benefit, in order for these companies to inject funds into our election campaign process”.

Thankfully, the voters of Beaufort West took the first opportunity to see Prince out on his ear. Cape Town’s Auntie Pat will, hopefully, have taken note.

The Editor


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