Rob Rose Editor: Financial Mail
Picture: GALLO IMAGES
Picture: GALLO IMAGES

It shouldn’t take one of the elder statesmen of the governing ANC to ask the obvious question of its current leaders: what do your donors have to hide?

On Sunday, Mavuso Msimang took issue with ANC treasurer-general Paul Mashatile, who said recently that the party wants to alter the new Political Party Funding Act, to reduce transparency about donations.

Mashatile had said, in particular, that the ANC wants to change the provision that the identity of those who donate R100,000 be publicly disclosed.

“Since the president signed the act we have found it very difficult to fundraise from the private sector … There are many private companies that don’t want to be disclosed,” he said.

Well, yes, I’m sure they don’t. But it doesn’t take a Bosasa accountant to figure out that their motives are probably not entirely virtuous.

It abuses the intellect of the electorate to pretend, for example, that “donations” made by Bosasa and Edwin Sodi weren’t predicated on the time-honoured tradition of you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.

Msimang clearly saw right through Mashatile, wryly pointing out in an article he wrote for the Sunday Times that the ANC’s treasurer had somehow failed to explain “why the funders preferred to remain anonymous”.

Any truly altruistic donor who wants anonymity because they dislike publicity would be the “rare exception”, he wrote. This is because “politicians, acting in personal or party interest, have amazing abilities for showing gratitude to ‘helpful’ businesspeople”, he wrote.

For Bosasa, there was plenty of “gratitude”: it won R12bn in “questionable state contracts” over 15 years, mostly in SA’s prisons. Sodi’s Blackhead Consulting, meanwhile, scored R2bn in tenders between 2013 and 2019, even as he liberally splashed out cash to the ANC.

Sodi, of course, argued the contracts were just a happy coincidence.

“The fact that a lot of the work I get is from government, I find that a bit overreaching to create the link to my donations to the ANC and the work that we get,” he told the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture last month.

Interestingly, Sodi had donated R3.5m directly to the ANC, of which he sent R371,553 through Mashatile. And would you know it, now it’s Mashatile talking of walking back the disclosure provisions of the new funding act, which was only signed in January 2019, and has yet to be implemented.

Msimang described Mashatile’s talk of changing the legislation as a “particularly egregious volte-face from the ANC’s stated position on a matter that goes to the heart of multiparty democracy”.

This is especially since the ANC was the party that initially proposed the bill. Now, the Government Gazette printing press isn’t even cold, and already it is muttering about the need for greater secrecy.

To be fair, most of the other parties didn’t like this legislation from the outset: the DA, for example, said its donors were “concerned about possible victimisation”.

Nonetheless, for the ANC to be talking about watering it down so soon after being embarrassed at the Zondo commission smacks of craven self-interest, rather than strengthening SA’s “multiparty democracy”.

If the party isn’t going to listen to anyone else on this issue, it really ought to listen to Msimang, a blue-blood member of the ANC.

A one-time private secretary to Oliver Tambo, later the communications chief of Umkhonto weSizwe in the 1960s and then, in 1994, the first black executive of SA Tourism, Msimang is well versed in politics.

And, as chair of Corruption Watch today, he is just as well versed in what happens when donors “buy” politicians. It’s remarkable that Mashatile isn’t — perhaps the ANC’s media team should send him a highlights reel of what deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo has been doing for the past two years.

Msimang isn’t alone, though.

A week before Mashatile’s comments, former constitutional development minister Valli Moosa argued that the Political Party Funding Act must be implemented as soon as possible.

“Based on the evidence in democracies about the world, it is clear that the majority of funders expect, and are given, favours by political parties. We also know that this is done secretly and often illegally,” he wrote.

Despite this, he said, this legislation, which is sorely needed to deal with the toxic relationship between money and politics, languishes on the shelf.

“It is quite hypocritical that much is said about the ongoing wave of corruption by all the political parties even though they know that at the heart of the matter lies the funding secrecy they all practise,” he wrote.

You’d have thought the ANC would have learnt from the Covid-19 looting that more transparency over funding reduces the odds of corruption. Evidently not — and that’s an indictment of how out of touch the party really is with what society needs.

This is a roundup of the best Covid-19 news from the web, brought to you in today’s FM lockdown newsletter.

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