In almost all democratic countries, political parties rely on donations from party members, organisations or the general public to fund their operations. This is not, inherently, a bad thing: although many volunteers give up their time to assist a party whose policies they believe in, there are still a great many administrators and staff that need salaries, and there are overheads such as office space, campaign materials, research and – of course – advertising to pay for.

How parties are funded, and the influence of funding on policy, is a debate as old as modern democracy and still a matter of much discussion: the most generally agreed principle, however, is that funding should be transparent.

Why is this important? Voters have a right to know where the money that funds parties and politicians comes from, in order that they can decide for themselves whether or not donors are influencing policy.

In South Africa we do have access to some information about donations to political parties. Thanks to landmark legislation that came into effect two years ago, which obliges parties to register any donations of cash or in-kind services from a single donor above the value of R100 000 per year. My Vote Counts has been tracking these declarations of funding as they are released by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) in a new interactive data explorer called Whose Vote Counts?.

Thanks to this law, we know that in the financial year April 2021 to March 2022, a period which covered the local elections, the ANC raised more money than any other party in large donations.

Donations to South African political parties 2021-2022

Disclosed donations to South African political parties 2021-2022.

As you might expect, the ANC received the largest amount in donations. In total, it received 45% of all donations over R100 000 over the course of the year, which is very close to its 48% vote share in the 2021 local elections. The same is not true of other parties, for example, the DA took 33% of all donations but only won 20% of the vote; ActionSA received 17% of all donations but received less than 2% of all votes cost. On the other hand, the EFF collected very little in large donations, but won 11% of the vote.

You can see the differences between donations and vote share in this interactive.

To understand the flow of money in greater detail, it’s useful to know how parties are funded in South Africa.

Party funding in South Africa

The data used in the graphic above comes from the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC). Every three months, it publishes a list of donations made to political parties, according to rules laid down in the Political Party Funding Act of 2018 (PPFA).

Politicians and parties in South Africa receive funding from three main sources.

  • Membership dues
    • Parties can charge individual members a subscription to fund overheads.
  • From one of two central funds
    • The Represented Political Parties Fund distributes payments based on the number of members in the National Assembly or provincial legislatures. This is paid for from tax revenues.
    • The Multiparty Democracy Fund is a separate fund administered by the IEC. Funds are raised from private donors.
    • Neither of these funds may be used to pay MPs’ or MECs’ salaries, as these are paid separately by Parliament or the provincial government.
  • Private donations

Up until recently, parties were not obliged to disclose the nature or amount of private donations. The PPFA, however, mandates that no party may receive funding – whether in the form of cash or in kind – from a single source that exceed R15 million in one year. It also obliges parties to publish a list of all donors – whether an individual, corporation or trust – who gives more than R100 000 in a year to a party.

In total, R278 million has been donated in this manner over the last two years.

It’s also very important to remember that these declarations do not include revenue from other sources such as money generated from events. A ticket to the ANC’s annual Presidential Gala Dinner can cost up to R200 000 per person, and there is little transparency around who has given these amounts.

In addition, no party is allowed to receive funding from organs of state, state owned enterprises or foreign governments or government agencies.

What these rules mean is that parties collect funding from a variety of sources, and only large donors are made public. The EFF, for example, receives a lot of income in small donations from members. As far as we can tell, overall party revenue – excluding MP and MEC salaries – is shown below.

Who is making these donations?

The latest release from IEC means that we now have two years of data to look at, and now we will switch focus to the totals for the period April 2021 to March 2023.

To determine whether or not donations are buying influence, we have to look at who is making donations. In total, there were 73 donating entities listed in the 2021-23 records, and these included private individuals, companies, trusts and overseas foundations. Several donors made multiple payments in cash or in kind, those who donated more than twice are shown in the table below.

This only tells part of the story, however. Some of the largest donors are very closely related to each other: for example, Harmony Gold Mining Company Ltd and African Rainbow Minerals Ltd are both part of the group of companies founded by or connected to multi-billionaire Patrice Mosepe, while multiple individual donors are members of the highly influential Oppenheimer family.

How we group donors

There a six groups of donors that we have separated out from the rest of the individual organisations and individuals. Some are directly related, like the Fynbos group or donors. Others are related by individuals, such as the organisations linked to Khandani Jack Msibi or Patrice Mosepe. While there is no hard evidence that donations within these groups are co-ordinated, in Mosepe’s case, Harmony and African Rainbow Minerals always make donations of equal amounts at the same times. Donations from three members of the Oppenhemier family to ActionSA are made in equal amounts in the same time period as well.

In all, 20 donors can be linked to eight major affiliations.


Of more interest, however, is where these groupings spent their money. The individual donor Martin Moshal, for example, donated the maximum R15m to the DA and half that amount to ActionSA. Patrice Mosepe’s group of companies, meanwhile, made significant contributions to the ANC, the DA and the Economic Freedom Fighters – plus smaller donations the IFP and VF+. Does that reflect where these groups feel power lies?

What sectors donate the most?

The important question for researchers and journalists is how much influence does a donation buy. A starting point for investigation might be which sectors are represented by donors. As well as clustering donors by their network relationships, we’ve also assigned each donor a field of primary interest.

Introducing Whose Vote Counts?, the funding explorer

The interactive below will allow you to explore all of the data so far released.

To help journalists and researchers go even further in their analysis, we have also created a new tool which will be updated every quarter as new data is released by the IEC. In this tool, you can see not only which organisations have donated to political parties, but also understand in more detail how trusts are set up to fund political parties and who sits and the boards of directors of donating organisations and how their interests might align with policy.

You’ll find this tool, called Whose Vote Counts, here. We’ll be updating it every three months as new declarations are made.