South African ANC Treasurer Wants Donations Kept SecretMike Cohen
South Africa’s ruling African National Congress wants the identity of party donors to remain secret amid calls for more disclosure ahead of next year’s vote.
“No party should be compelled to divulge the name of its funders,” Zweli Mkhize, the ANC’s treasurer-general, said in an interview in Cape Town on May 9. “We do not want someone to be compromised simply for supporting a party he wishes to support or has approached him.”
The ANC’s dominance of the government in Africa’s biggest economy since it took power in the first post-apartheid vote in 1994 has secured it the lion’s share of corporate sponsorship, public disclosures by companies show. Groups including the Congress of South African Trade Unions, the country’s largest labor federation and an ANC ally, want parties to reveal their sources of funding to reduce conflicts of interest.
To date only SABMiller Plc, the world’s second-largest brewer, has disclosed plans to assist parties contesting next year’s elections. Nine million rand ($983,000) will be given to the six largest parties in proportion to their representation in Parliament, the London-based company said in a March 15 stock exchange filing.
MTN Group Ltd., Africa’s biggest mobile-phone company, and Anglo American Plc, the largest investor in South African mining, are among companies that have made public donations to parties ahead of previous elections.
Organizations including the Open Society Foundation of South Africa and the Institute for Accountability in Southern Africa have also called for more disclosure.
“I’ve interacted with a number of donors, who are very happy to donate, but they do not want to make a political statement about the support they give to a party,” Mkhize, who is also premier of the eastern KwaZulu-Natal Province, said. “They would also want to exercise their right without any sense of public judgment. It’s a support of democracy.”
Mathews Phosa, who Mkhize replaced as ANC treasurer-general five months ago, had raised concerns about unregulated party funding.
“South Africa is moving into dangerous and challenging territory,” Phosa said in a speech in Johannesburg on June 7. “The private funding of political parties is unregulated. Our democracy should not be available or sold to the highest bidder.”
The Democratic Alliance, the main opposition party, has also resisted making donations public.
“The DA makes a commitment of confidentiality to our donors,” party leader Helen Zille said a January newsletter. “Ideally, the DA would prefer full transparency but if we were the only party to apply it most of our donations would dry up, together with any prospect of sustaining democracy.”
The ANC also gets funding from Chancellor House, its investment arm. Opposition parties say this presents a conflict of interest because it enables the party to benefit from state contracts.
Chancellor House owns a 25 percent stake in Hitachi Power Africa Ltd., which won contracts to supply boilers to state power utility Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd. While Phosa instructed Chancellor House to exit Hitachi, it never complied.
“It should be possible that the ANC can participate in commercial activity,” Mkhize said. “It shouldn’t participate in government tenders. It needs to structure a kind of arms-length relationship where the business runs without having day-to-day involvement of the ANC.”