The Electoral Matters Amendment Bill: The National Assembly (NA) passed the bill last week. The bill seeks to amend the Political Party Funding Act of 2018. Among its key objectives is to align various pieces of legislation with the Electoral Amendment Act of 2023, which enables independent candidates to contest elections for seats in the National Assembly and provincial legislatures.

Advocacy group My Vote Counts has described the legislation as “plainly unconstitutional and a grave threat to our democracy”.

As Joel Bregman, senior researcher at My Vote Counts, writes so eloquently below, there is much at stake:

Before we go to the polls on 29 May, the Electoral Matters Amendment Bill (EMAB) must become law. The EMAB was tabled in Parliament by the minister of home affairs on 8 December 2023, ostensibly to bring several laws in line with the amended Electoral Act (2023).

Most of the amendments proposed in the EMAB are technical and entirely necessary.

But, in a show of political expediency and hypocrisy, the EMAB proposes fundamental changes to the Political Party Funding Act (PPFA) that are unconstitutional, impact our right to vote from an informed position, open opportunities for a money grab before the highly contested election, and will greatly diminish transparency and accountability.

Why are the proposed amendments to the PPFA so dangerous?

The PPFA is one of the most significant pieces of legislation since the adoption of the Constitution. It limits private influence and the ability of capital to dominate our politics and provides access to crucial information to exercise political rights. Central to the law’s strength are two limits. The first is the “upper limit” (R15-million) which is the maximum annual amount that a political party can receive from a single donor. The second (R100,000) is the “disclosure threshold” which is the amount over which political parties must disclose to the IEC, which makes this information publicly available.

These limits are under attack in the EMAB. Amending them, as well as changing how they are determined, will undermine the PPFA and its objectives.

The amendments to the regulations that govern these two crucial limits provide the President with the sole power to determine them. This is clearly a conflict of interest. The President is the head of a political party and is not a neutral actor since the determination of these limits will have a material impact on the finances of their party.

Additionally, the EMAB has been conceived, perhaps intentionally, in such a way that it creates a lacuna in the law. If passed in its current form there will be no limits in place, until a proclamation is made by the President. This will effectively mean that there will be no limits on the donation amount, and no requirement to disclose. A central objective of the law will not just be undermined but rendered meaningless.

The EMAB also amends the allocation ratio for public funding through the Represented Political Parties Fund from 66.6% proportional and 33.3% equitable to 90% proportional and 10% equitable. This revision takes us back to the pre-PPFA regime, which was heavily weighted in favour of established parties. The PPFA’s more equitable allocation was designed to provide a more level playing field and give smaller parties a greater share of the public funding pie.

Naturally, many opposition parties will be negatively affected by such a change and have threatened to go to court on the matter. Even the DA, which would benefit from such a move, has been critical of this.

The ANC’s hypocrisy is on full display with this amendment. In the party’s 2017 submission on the PPFA, it wrote: “Funds should be divided between parties proportionally, largely in line with current practice. However, additional resources should be allocated to the smallest parties to support political diversity and prevent the system favouring incumbents.” It is election season, and we must be wary of political double-speak, but we need to seriously interrogate the reasons for this U-turn by the governing party. It surely has nothing to do with principle or “political diversity”. It has been reported that this change would see the ANC receive more than R50-million in public funding in the next year.

The ANC has warned us of its intentions

Framing these amendments as unconstitutional, opportunistic, or facilitating a money grab is neither alarmist nor venturing into the realm of speculation. The ANC has publicly expressed its intentions to amend the law by undermining these two key provisions. In January 2022, the party’s National Working Committee recommended that the annual limit be increased to between R50-million and R100-million or discarded entirely.

The ANC and other parties have been resistant to these limits and criticised them when the law was being developed. They placed the blame for less funding on the disclosure threshold, in particular. If the President, regardless of party, is likely to always expand the limits, thereby subverting transparency, all political parties stand to benefit at the expense of the public. Political parties are not in opposition to the objectives and principles of the PPFA. But in as far as the law limits their ability to solicit private funding, there is a desire to weaken these provisions.

A test for Parliament and our democracy
The EMAB is set to be adopted in the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) Select Committee on 20 March. The entire NCOP will then vote on 26 March. It is expected to pass and be sent to the President to consider and sign into law before 29 May.

Parliament still has time to fulfil its constitutional mandate by rejecting the EMAB and ensuring that what reaches the President’s desk is constitutional. The President can also send the EMAB to the Constitutional Court to test its constitutionality, and other legal avenues exist to stop this becoming law. The battle is not yet lost, but those entrusted with great power need to do what is in the interest of the Constitution and the public rather than serve their own narrow party-political interests.

The 2021 Afrobarometer survey found just one in four South Africans had trust in either the governing or opposition parties. It is two months until South Africa’s most consequential elections of the past 30 years. Political parties – and for the first time, independent candidates – are campaigning to persuade the electorate to trust them with their vote. At the same time as electioneering ramps up, political parties are seeking to abuse this very same trust and are acting in their own narrow interests by nefariously amending key provisions in the PPFA.

If signed in its current form, it will absolutely be challenged in the courts. Several opposition parties have already threatened legal action. Twenty civil society organisations wrote to Parliament to raise issues with the EMAB, clearly laying out why the amendments are unconstitutional.

The lack of legislation governing private party funding created an environment that was conducive for private capital and corrupt elements in the state and the governing party to conspire. How, in the context of a country still reeling from the effects of State Capture can there be any justification to take us back to increased secrecy, and less accountability in the funding of our politics.

There is no amount of spin or finesse to cover up what is going on here. When the PPFA was signed into law it was lauded as an iconic law that would deepen our democracy. Fewer than three years since then, those in power are seeking to cut its legs off because they want less-restricted access to public and private funding. This cannot be allowed.

On another note:
Every day we are greeted with reams of news about our towns and cities which are falling apart. Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni and Tshwane are in a water crisis and other towns and cities suffering from corrupt governance are surely going to follow suit. State Capture and corrupt governance have consequences. There is neither time nor interest to do boring things like maintenance when you’re too busy lining your pockets on the next tender.

To facilitate corruption one mostly needs to put the wrong people in positions of power; those who have no understanding of how to keep the lights on or maintain the things that make for functional cities which protect citizens against disease and where development can thrive. In Gauteng premier Panyaza Lesufi seems more interested in vanity projects and fantasising about the provincial NHI than actually dealing with real problems. The local government in Johannesburg is no better as rubbish piles up and water cuts grip the city.

Add to this the looming spectre of ever-increasing coalition government across the country and one despairs that these can ever become hubs of development.
How do we share spaces and create within them areas for joyful life when poor governance has, by and large, consigned these spaces to be places of degradation and misery?
The poet Karen Press puts it far more eloquently in Under Construction, one of a series of poems on the urban landscape. These are the kinds of questions we should ask about how we live and the things that matter.


test: would Vladimir and Estragon be willing to wait here?
test: would a ball kicked along the road roll backwards?
test: would a bunch of flowers stay alive all the way home?
test: would Charles Baudelaire walk these pavements?
test: how long would a goldfish survive?
test: would Frida Kahlo find enough colours?
test: would the carrots grow straight?
test: would Nawal el Saadawi be able to relax?
test: would a cellist be heard?
test: would Elvis be happy here? Would Fela?

Until next time,


Originally published on Daily Maverick.