Corruption, state capture and party funding are phrases that have dominated the South African political space over the years. In 2020 more questions were raised about the depth of collusion, inappropriate financial transactions and less than ideal political dealings that come to light in the Zondo Commission. Political parties such as the African National Congress (ANC) faced a major crisis with party members like Ace Magashule and Andile Lungisa who threw the party into disarray with their alleged criminal behaviour. Opposition parties like the Democratic Alliance (DA) also dominated headlines with their hosting of South Africa’s first virtual policy and elective conferences which drew criticism for not being inclusive enough. In light of all this, an important question becomes clear: ‘How can our political parties do better?’

2021 was off to a good start for South African voters when President Cyril Ramaphosa finally announced the implementation date of the Political Party Funding Act (PPFA). This piece of legislation will go a long way in helping to curb corrupt financial dealings in political parties by offering a regulatory framework for party funding and its disclosure. However it is not just in our legislation that we should push for change. We should also be advocating for change in political behaviour and practice to become more accountable and transparent. One way to do that is through Intra-Party Democracy (IPD). 

IPD is a set of principles that, if adhered to by political parties, can create more accountable political space. It is argued that the level to which political parties adhere to IPD directly relates to how well the party upholds proper governance and constitutionality. It is therefore a reflection of how well the party values good governance and democracy. IPD is made up of the following principles:

  1. Decentralised and inclusive party elections
  2. Decentralised and inclusive policy-making
  3. Fair disciplinary rules and disciplinary outcomes
  4. Freedom of expression, association and assembly
  5. Transparency 
  6. Accountability 

Read our op-ed about decentralising and inclusive party elections and policy-making here.
Read our op-ed about fair disciplinary rules; outcomes and freedom of expression, association and assembly here

If political parties institutionalise these principles an overly centralised system of power can be avoided to create a more equitable and democratic distribution of power. It will also help to create a political atmosphere which encourages debate and transparency by holding political parties to account for the things they say and do and the promises they make. IPD helps to guard against the abuse of power by senior party officials and party elites by encouraging a democractic approach to decision making, policies and party elections by fostering inclusivity and active participation of all party members. South Africa has not yet enforced IPD because political parties are classified as voluntary associations. This means that a political party has the authority to prescribe the relationship between the political party and its members in its party constitution. 

The structure of a voluntary association creates a top down approach which can exclude the full participation in all matters of the party by its members. To avoid repeats of corruption as attested to in the Zondo Commission and to bolster our legislation, we should commit to IPD to create a fair, democratic and robust political space.

My Vote Counts NPC is a non-profit company founded to improve the accountability, transparency and inclusiveness of elections and politics in the Republic of South Africa. We work to ensure that the political and electoral systems are open, fair and accountable to the public and that they remain relevant in the changing South African socio-political context.