By Joel Bregman and Minhaj Jeenah

Home Affairs Minister, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi has used the enactment of the Electoral Amendment Bill to introduce proposals that, if adopted, will undermine the Political Party Funding Act. 

Last week in Parliament, the Minister of Home Affairs, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi gave life to his party’s campaign to undermine the progress made in political party funding transparency. He used the enactment of the Electoral Amendment Bill to introduce proposals that, if adopted, will undermine the Political Party Funding Act and result in us knowing less about who is funding (and influencing) our politics. Of course, the party funding law must change to consider the funding of independent candidates, but we need to see the proposals for what they are: an attempt to allow his party (and others) to evade scrutiny.

In essence, the Minister has asked the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs to craft amendments to the Act, in line with his presentation. At the centre of his presentation is a proposal to expand the R100 000 reporting threshold. The Minister provided no figures, but the ANC has spoken publicly of its desire to increase this to up to R500 000, which will allow political parties to conceal a significant number of donations. Currently, political parties and donors must report all donations of R100 000 and above, a figure that is already too high.

Cognitive dissonance

The Minister’s presentation comes a year and a half after his superiors in the ANC resolved to lobby Parliament to expand the reporting threshold and to consider scrapping the already excessive annual limit of R15 million for a single-party donor. Three months ago, the party’s NEC revived this campaign, instructing its MPs to initiate the process to expand the funding threshold and limit.

Hypocritically, the NEC’s instruction came a month after its 2022 National Conference. The Conference is the highest decision-making body of the party, and it ignored the NEC’s resolution, rejected its reliance on private funding and resolved that the state must fully fund political parties. Not only do the Minister’s proposals show disdain for transparency and accountability, but they are also a defiance of his party’s mandate.

Debunking the Minister’s claims

In his presentation, Motsoaledi makes six claims to bolster his proposal to limit transparency. Let’s debunk these claims:

  • Claim 1: Political parties’ finances have been negatively affected by the enactment of the party funding law

This is an argument that the Minister’s party has been making since 2021. It may be true that the ANC’s finances have been slightly affected by the law, but their financial crisis already emerged in 2014 – seven years prior to the law coming into effect.

The ANC’s financial crisis has little to do with the party funding law. The Minister must know that changing the law will not help his party emerge out of its crisis.

  • Claim 2: The Legislation should not prescribe amounts, but the Regulations should avoid unnecessary changes to the Act

The Minister is suggesting that the rand value of the reporting thresholds and donor limits should be in the regulations of the laws, rather than in the laws themselves. If this is the case, it will make it easier for the political elite to change the amounts when it suits them, without the same level of public oversight and input.

  • Claim 3: The obligation on political parties and donors to report donations over R100 000 is cumbersome

Parties and donors must fill in a form when disclosing funding information. The one-page form asks for basic information relating to the entities involved and the donation made and is hardly ‘cumbersome’. Regardless, transparency outweighs the slight inconvenience and ensuring donors also complete forms is a check and balance that strengthens the law.

  • Claim 4: The reporting threshold did not cater for justifiable increases over the past five years:

The law was signed in 2018, but only came into effect on 1 April 2021, meaning that it has been operational for only two years (not five). While the Minister does not indicate the extent of such an increase, his party has resolved to expand the disclosure threshold to up to R500 000. If this happens, most of the disclosures we have seen in the first seven quarterly disclosures under the Act would have been hidden.

The Minister argues that R100 000 is not worth what it was five years ago (when the thresholds were defined), and of course, there is truth in this. If you use South Africa’s inflation rate, it would be only approximately R125 000. But this misses the point.

Firstly, the disclosure threshold was not arrived at through any analysis data. If it is to be changed, it will need to be to deepen transparency. This would mean lowering it significantly or removing it entirely, so that all private donations need to be disclosed to the public.

  • Claim 5: The limit to foreign donor funding needs to change

The Minister suggests that the limit on foreign donations needs to be tightened. This, of course, is a reasonable proposal to protect the country’s sovereignty. However, it’s hard to see the proposal as anything but grandstanding. The ANC has not received any funding from foreign sources, whereas some of their political opponents, such as the Democratic Alliance and ActionSA, have. Nonetheless, the Act has clear prohibitions on how much foreign donors can donate, as well as the purposes of the donations.

  • Claim 6: Earnings by parties from their investments, shareholdings and commercial activities should be excluded as they are not donations

In the first two years of the PPFA, the ANC received donations in the tens of millions of rands from companies closely linked to the party. These include the party’s investment arm, Chancellor House, United Manganese of Kalahari, of which Chancellor House owns a portion, as well as the Batho Batho Trust.

There is a clear need for these types of donations to be disclosed when the source is a party’s investment arm or companies linked to a party. This is because the public has a right to determine if the companies that donated benefited unduly due to their relationship with the political party.

Ironically, Minister Motsoaledi started his presentation by stating that he is committed to transparency in party funding and to safeguarding democracy. However, if the Minister does get his way, there will be a hollowing out of transparency and accountability, and we will be taken back to secrecy in political party funding. The Minister’s interest is not to safeguard democracy but to safeguard the interests of the ANC.


Originally published on News24