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Political donations a corporate capture gambit

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From left, the DA’s Mzamo Billy, ActionSA premier candidate Zwakele Mncwango, AMC representative Seelan Archary, and ANC’s Nhlakanipho Ntombela during the elections debate organised by Independent Media in the run-up to the May 29, 2024 elections. The DA’s anti-workers politics – its opposition to the national minimum wage, and other hard-won achievements of workers – has a clear connection with the donations it enjoys from the dominant section of capital, to effect a right-wing ‘ballot-based regime change’ against the ANC, the writer says. – Picture: Shelley Kjonstad / Independent Newspapers

By Alex Mashilo

On May 17 the Electoral Commission of SA (IEC) announced that the value of donations declared by political parties in the first quarter of 2024 surpassed R100 million for the first time since the enactment of the Political Funding Act in 2018, correctly reported the Sunday Independent on May 19, 2024. This brought the total amount of the Political Party Funding Act declared donations to approximately R172.1m since 2021.

In the over R100m Political Party Funding Act declarations for the first quarter of this year, according to the report, the bulk of the money, R65m, went to the DA. It was followed by the recently formed Change Starts Now with about R36m, the IFP with R20m and the ANC under R17m. The recently formed Rise Mzansi declared R15.1m.

If you assess the donations according to political party audited membership or publicly available information, especially the number of seats in municipal councils across the country, provincial legislatures and Parliament, you will reach no other conclusion than that the dominant sections of the capitalist class, personifying capital, which in South Africa remains white dominated due to the persisting legacy of racial capitalism, have the DA as their top donations destination.

For instance, if capital donates an equal amount to the ANC and the DA, this translates into a greater amount for the DA than the ANC in terms of organisational size. This is what Naspers has done in donating R2m each to the ANC and DA.

Political party donors are enablers of political action and its publicity through printing, among others. What we see is that their core not only makes donations but directs those donations politically towards a certain political outcome. This is the space in which the Oppenheimer family has made significant donations, 23.7 percent of declared donations from April 1, 2021, to December 31, 2023, according to data from the “My Vote Counts” dashboard, which News24 relied on in its report published on May 20, 2024.

The 23.7 percent declared from members of the Oppenheimer family exceeds R94m in donations to ActionSA, the DA, Rise Mzansi and Build One South Africa.

According to the same data, Capitec Bank founder Michiel le Roux donated over R65m to the DA. A detailed analysis of the donations shows that parties like the EFF received donations as well, for example, from 3Sixty Health (Pty) Ltd. The same applies to parties like the PA, FF+, the IFP and a number of others. One cannot escape a clearly spelt out trend from a detailed analysis of the donations. That is, the dominant section of capital is the enabler of right-wing political parties above all else.

This appears to be its agenda to effect a right-wing “ballot-based regime change” against the ANC. There seems to be a correlation between this and anti-ANC international developments, such as the recent legislative manoeuvres in the United States.

In March 2024, the US House of Representatives endorsed, through a voice note, a bill aimed at punishing, essentially, an ANC-led South Africa by calling for a comprehensive review of US relations with South Africa.

The US House of Representatives was reacting to the South African government’s adoption of entrenching involvement in the expanding BRICS Plus, including relations with China and Russia. South Africa’s independent stance on Nato provoked war in Russia and justice-seeking measures against the genocidal killings of Palestinian people are among the factors to which the US House of Representatives was reacting.

Dr Reuben E Brigety, the US ambassador to South Africa, alleged that South Africa gave weapons to Russia amid the war in Ukraine. This allegation, which many reasonably believed was part of the US’s pressure on South Africa to stand with Nato and thus abandon the exercise of South African democratic national sovereignty, was proven to be false. The allegation resulted in the rand’s devaluation, with far-reaching economic and financial impacts.

In the Palestinian situation, the South African government took Israel to the International Court of Justice, seeking justice for the Palestinian people against genocidal killings by the Israeli settler state. The latest figures show that since October 2023 Israel has killed approximately 36,000 Palestinians, of whom the majority, 75 percent, are children and women. Children comprise over 15,000 and women over 10,000 of the casualties.

Domestically, the core of right-wing parties that has attracted remarkable donations articulates what the imperialists who constitute Nato, especially the US, accept. It was to the core of the Nato-constituting states that the DA wrote its widely condemned foreign involvement-seeking letter in our elections.

Clearly, there are foreign interests at play in our elections. This could include an “invisible hand” which appears to be co-ordinating anti-ANC party political donations with the goal of installing a right-wing multi-party coalition. This agenda has to fail. For this to happen, a decisive majority of voters should vote for the ANC to defend our democratic national independence and to exercise our democratic national sovereignty. South Africa does not need a puppet government controlled by former colonial powers and active imperialist states.

The emerging trend in political party donations also suggests an effort aimed at shifting our national democracy away from its origins as a predominantly working-class liberation achievement towards a more mainstream bourgeois democracy. In a mainstream bourgeois democracy, if you move beneath the surface, where political parties contest regular elections, you will discover that is only the form. In terms of content, it are different sections of the bourgeoisie, that is the capitalist class, who are contesting, among others, through donations to political parties.

The DA’s opposition to the national minimum wage, legislative provisions protecting workers against unfair labour practices, extension of collective bargaining agreements, and other hard-won achievements of workers reflects bourgeois politics in the electoral terrain.

It is inconceivable that this anti-workers politics has no connection with the donations it enjoys. The correlation between the two could as well point to the donations as a transaction. The point is things do not end there. There are other commitments against the working class at play as well, to reciprocate the donations received through measures seeking to build and entrench bourgeois domination of our economy, democracy and society.

Beyond the May 29 elections, we need a new conversation to safeguard our democracy, including regular elections, against all forms of corporate capture – capture via donations to political parties from capital included. The working class needs to unite to defend our democracy and to expand it, including in the economy and political party funding framework.

Alex Mashilo is the spokesperson for the South African Communist Party