By Vusi Gumbi
The Global Commission on Elections, Democracy and Security (2012) report outlined the impact of unregulated campaign finance as follows:
“… the rise of uncontrolled political finance threatens to hollow out democracy everywhere in the world, and rob democracy of its unique strengths compared to other forms of governance – political equality, the empowerment of the disenfranchised and the ability to manage societal conflicts peacefully.”
During a Q and A session in Parliament in late 2018, then leader of the official opposition, Mmusi Maimane, questioned President Cyril Ramaphosa if the payment of R500 000 that his son had received from Africa Global Operations (formerly known as Bosasa) was a donation to CR17 – Ramaphosa’s campaign for the ANC Presidency.
The President initially declined any knowledge of the funds before abruptly backtracking a week later to concede that the money was indeed for his ANC campaign. Smit, Jika and Skiti (2019) in the Mail and Guardian, revealed that in just over a decade, Bosasa’s invoices to government had amassed more than R12 billion – it is for this reason that the Bosasa case was of public interest as it seemed that its support of Cyril Ramaphosa’s campaign to be ANC President was an “investment”.
On July 20, 2021, just as the other courts before, the Gauteng High Court dismissed the EFF’s application, linked to the Public Protector, to have the President’s CR17 bank statements unsealed – while stating that the Public Protector went beyond her jurisdiction in the investigation, the court argued that internal party contests are not a matter of public interest. To say President Cyril Ramaphosa did not personally benefit from the CR17 campaign is baseless considering that the entire campaign was about him becoming the President of the ANC, and by extension, President of the Republic. This is the very same campaign that ran under the banner of transparency, fighting corruption and the open notion of accessibility. But today, we have moved from Thuma Mina to Fihla Mina.
However, the unfounded notion – devoid of reason – that internal political party campaigns are private matters impede on accountability and transparency and makes the fight against corruption to be even more difficult – with implications far beyond Ramaphosa’s specific campaign.
Accountability and transparency are a major part of how people conceive democracy; they are a system of government in which the citizens have control. This all but means that democracy is centered on balancing government powers on one hand and citizen control on the other. The courts’ inference that political parties are private organisations is inconsistent with democracy’s key facets of accountability and transparency because political parties’ internal contestations shape South Africa’s political discourse through elections and political processes: representation in and functioning of Parliament, provincial legislatures and municipal councils – these in turn determine key issues such as allocation of budget, passing of legislation and governance of the country. What happens in Luthuli House in particular, as the ruling party, has an impact on the country.
Bosasa has been implicated in the State Capture Commission, the very same company that donated half a million rand to the President’s campaign; the same company whose invoices to different government departments and entities has amassed over R12 billion in a decade. Is it far-fetched to think that there would be or there have been kickbacks? “He who pays the piper calls the tune”, private funders do not support political campaigns from the goodness of their hearts. It is a choice, a strategic choice. A choice either to maintain the policies held by the said party which resonate with the funder or to change policy.
Without accountability and transparency, the notion of democracy all but diminishes. The courts are posing a threat to our democracy because they are creating an environment where money can be used to manipulate policy by funding those who have the prospect of occupying public office from winning internal party elections. This is because South Africa’s political landscape is shaped in such a way that one’s position in the party determines their position in government:
The President of the ANC becomes State President, and so is the Deputy President. The Provincial Chairpersons of the ANC become the Premiers. Members of the ANC NEC become Ministers and Deputy Ministers. It is for this reason that internal party contests are a matter of public interest.
In a corruption-prone country like ours, the courts have set South Africa on a slippery slope because political parties, particularly the ruling party, influence too many things that affect the public to be considered private. Political parties are in the business of public buy-in, as such the public deserves transparency and accountability. This should apply to all parties across the board.
South African taxpayers have paid almost R1 billion for the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture, Fraud and Maladministration in the public sector, to investigate the extent of corruption that plagued the country during former President Jacob Zuma’s tenure. With the precedent that the courts have set, with the CR17 bank statements, corruption, nepotism, maladministration, fraud, “favours” will be prevalent and South Africa will find itself in State Capture Commission 2.0.
Vusi Gumbi is a Master’s candidate in Politics at the University of Johannesburg and the winner of One Day Leader season 8.
DO YOU HAVE A NEWS STORY OR AN OPINION FOR CENTRAL NEWS?: E-mail us : firstname.lastname@example.org or Whatsapp us on 083 398 9119