As Parliament begins to reopen and we approach the deadline for the third set of political party funding disclosures to be published, we are deeply concerned by political party attempts to undermine or repeal the ground-breaking Political Party Funding Act (PPFA). These attempts are not in the interest of the people. They are attempts to weaken our democracy and to allow our politics to be further beholden to private interests.

Most recently, the ANC’s leadership recommended that the party lobby other parties represented in Parliament to support plans to amend the Act. The ruling party wants to expand the annual threshold for disclosure from R100,000 to R250,000 or R500,000. If successful, this will mean that only donations above R250,000 or R500,000 in a year will need to be disclosed. This is despite the Zondo Commission showing how influence can be bought with as little as R100,000 and below. They also want the upper-limit a single donor can donate to a party per year to be increased from R15 million to R50m – R100m, or just be scrapped entirely! This would allow private capital to wield an absurd amount of influence over parties.

Further, they want the Act to exclude dividends and investments of political parties. Thus, donations from investment arms such as Chancellor House (which donated R15m to the ANC in the previous quarter) will not need to be disclosed. This will create further opportunities for secrecy and nefarious influence in our politics.

These thresholds are the lifeblood of the legislation and to remove it is to repeal the law.

An undermining of party principles

Strangely, the Act was previously celebrated by the very groups who are now attempting to amend it. Last year, President Ramaphosa lauded the enactment of the Act, calling it, ‘a historic development for transparency and accountability in South Africa’. He continued: ‘The implementation of the Political Party Funding Act will have far-reaching consequences for good governance and ethical political activity. It will strengthen the confidence of citizens in the democratic political process and enable them to assert their right to information’ and that it was ‘part of the commitment of this administration to improving transparency and accountability in government.’  

During the public hearings on the Regulations for the Act In 2019, the then ANC Spokesperson Dakota Legoete said, ‘This law is a practical expression of the ANC’s commitment to constitutional values of fairness, equity, accountability and transparency…It will deepen democracy, protect our sovereignty and usher in a new culture of transparent funding for political parties’. At the hearings, the DA submitted that only large donors could influence a political party — referring to donations of over R100,000 and underscoring why such donations would need to be made public.

Recent attempts to backtrack on these statements also undermine the parties’ stated principles.

A hollowing out of our democracy

The Act exists to enhance transparency, accountability, and the rights of ordinary people. It is, undoubtedly, one of the biggest improvements to our democracy since 1996.

It has its roots in the 2018 Constitutional Court judgement on the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA). The judgement stated that the ‘information on the private funding of political parties and independent candidates is essential for the effective exercise of the right to make political choices and participate in the elections’. Additionally, the judgement stated, ‘Secrecy enables corruption and conduces more to a disposition by politicians that is favourable towards those who funded them privately once elected into public office’.

The Act was also, in part, developed due to public pressure amidst the unravelling of state capture and the nefarious relationships between private capital and political parties. The Zondo Commission laid bare how private control of our institutions hollows out democracy and deepens levels of inequality, poverty and unemployment.

Political party attempts to amend the Act will, no doubt, see the grip that private capital has on our politics strengthened and expanded.

An Amendment to benefit individuals, not the people of South Africa

Both the ANC and the DA have stated that the Act has made it difficult to solicit donations and maintain financial health. But there is no good reason for such crucial relationships between political parties and private capital to be shrouded in secrecy.

There are other ways to strengthen the sustainability of our political parties and still maintain and broaden our democracy. The ANC’s attempt to increase annual public allocations to political parties through the IEC is one such solution proposed and could be reviewed. The PPFA also makes provision for a multi-party democracy fund. This fund allows donations from the public and private entities who are interested solely in donating to better our democracy. The IEC then distributes these funds across all parties represented in parliament.

A law such as the PPFA should only be amended if it is found to be unconstitutional, does not exist in the interest of ordinary people, lacks the teeth to be sufficiently robust or is no longer serving its purpose. In this case, an attempt to amend the law would be simply to benefit a small elite within political parties.

If anything, the law (and the R100,000 and R15m thresholds, in particular) needs to be strengthened to continue closing the spaces in which secrecy in our politics can exist and where private influence over our politics is the order of the day. 

As members of civil society, we are appalled by attempts to undermine and amend the Political Party Funding Act.

We know too well the devastating consequences that secrecy in our politics has, especially on deepening levels of inequality, poverty and unemployment. We call on political parties to not entertain attempts to expand or remove the thresholds that are the lifeblood of the PPFA. We call on political parties to put democracy and the interest of the people before their own interests.  

This statement is endorsed by:

  • My Vote Counts
  • Helen Suzman Foundation
  • Right2Know
  • Defend our Democracy Campaign
  • Open Secrets
  • Ahmed Kathrada Foundation
  • Auwal Socio-Economic Research Institute

For more information or media queries contact:

Sheilan Clarke (Communications Officer, My Vote Counts): 0734292593

Minhaj Jeenah (Executive Director, My Vote Counts): 0724567260