Civil society groups have accused the ANC of weakening the country’s democracy after the ruling party proposed several amendments to key parts of the Political Party Funding Act.

The ANC proposals have been labelled as attempts to allow politics to be further beholden to private interests.

The statement on Friday was endorsed by the Helen Suzman Foundation, Right2Know, My Vote Counts, and Defend our Democracy Campaign.

Speaking on behalf of the groups, Sheilan Clark from MyVote Counts said recent attempts to backtrack on these statements undermined the parties’ stated principles.

She described it as a hollowing out of 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 judgment on the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA).

“The judgment 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’,” Clarke added.

The ANC’s national working committee (NWC) wants to increase the amount a single individual or entity can donate to a political party from R15 million annually to between R50 million and R100 million.

Alternatively, this limit should be completely scrapped, the party argued.

The NWC also recommended the threshold for disclosures of donations, currently at R100 000, should be increased to R250 000 or R500 000 per annum.

NWC members warned the party needed to proceed with caution as NGOs were opposed to any threshold.

Should the ANC be successful in its proposed amendments, the amounts would not have to be declared.

Clarke said attempts to amend the act would see the grip that private capital had on 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,” she said.

The act came into effect on 1 April last year after President Cyril Ramaphosa signed it into law in January 2019 and promulgated it in February 2021.

Political parties are supposed to disclose to the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) – on a quarterly basis – funds of more than R100 000 that they receive.

Parties can receive R15 million from an individual or entity in a single year.

Clarke said there were several other ways to strengthen the sustainability of political parties and still maintain and broaden 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 act also makes provision for a multiparty 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,” she added.

(Originally published in News24)