ANC lead­ers must re­tire at 60

Che Se­lane is ANC Youth League Lim­popo Provincial Sec­re­tary, he write in his per­sonal ca­pac­ity.

African Times - - News -

The rul­ing by the Con­sti­tu­tional Court that vot­ers have a right to know who funds po­lit­i­cal par­ties may well prove to be one of the best things for our democ­racy. The rul­ing could well be the first step to­wards re­duc­ing the in­flu­ence of money in our pol­i­tics.

Cur­rently cov­er­age of elec­tion cam­paigns is based more on op­tics than is­sues. The party that can fill sta­di­ums and pro­vide the most cap­ti­vat­ing pic­tures tends to get more cov­er­age than the party that strug­gles to fill a small com­mu­nity hall, for ex­am­ple.

The prob­lem with me­dia cov­er­age based on op­tics is that the cost of run­ning elec­tions sky­rock­ets, which means that par­ties must raise more money for show. The money is then spent on things that pro­vide the best op­tics. One branded T-shirt costs up­wards of R50 and you can imag­ine how much a party that fills a sta­dium with yel­low, blue or red shirts must spend across the coun­try for the du­ra­tion of its cam­paign.

Added to the prob­lem is the fact that the ma­jor­ity of po­lit­i­cal party sup­port­ers are poor and can’t af­ford to buy the branded shirts them­selves. Their fi­nan­cial po­si­tion also means that par­ties must bear the cost of trans­port­ing the sup­port­ers to the venues. In some cases, peo­ple are bused from as far as 200km away to be present at a cam­paign rally so that par­ties can have the op­tics that the me­dia, es­pe­cially tele­vi­sion, pri­ori­tise.

Once party sup­port­ers are at the venue they have to be fed. If you do the cal­cu­la­tions, you will see that each per­son at­tend­ing a cam­paign rally can cost the po­lit­i­cal party con­cerned up­wards of R200. There are also the hid­den costs such as the stipends and trans­port money for or­gan­is­ers and vol­un­teers, and cam­paign para­pher­na­lia.

On av­er­age, a rally for 10 000 peo­ple can eas­ily cost R5 mil­lion. With cam­paign ral­lies in all re­gions over a pe­riod of sev­eral weeks, a party seek­ing to win power must have a bud­get of at least R500 mil­lion.

Un­doubt­edly, fun­ders will be more re­luc­tant to “do­nate” to po­lit­i­cal par­ties if there is a pos­si­bil­ity that they will be re­vealed. Such revelations may cause a va­ri­ety of prob­lems for donors. It’s a com­mon view that some fun­ders do­nate dirty money to po­lit­i­cal par­ties. Oth­ers would fear the scru­tiny that would fol­low the revelations about how they make their money, even if it was through le­git­i­mate means.

There is also the gen­uine con­cern on the part of le­git­i­mate donors that they could suf­fer reprisals from the party that wins the elec­tion if they sup­port a party strongly op­posed to the win­ner. At any rate, many donors run cor­po­rates and busi­nesses that have po­lit­i­cally di­verse clien­te­les and em­ploy­ees. The risk of ex­po­sure will most cer­tainly dis­suade many from mak­ing do­na­tions.

We did not need the Con­sti­tu­tional Court to tell us that some fun­ders give money to po­lit­i­cal par­ties with the hope that the par­ties will re­turn the favours once they are in power. Those that do not have a chance to wrest state power tend to re­turn favours through fight­ing for their fun­ders’ in­ter­ests in par­lia­ment. In­evitably, spe­cial in­ter­ests trump the in­ter­ests of vot­ers in the long run.

This state of af­fairs clearly leads to the par­ties that have greater chances of win­ning elec­tions rais­ing more money, fol­lowed by the par­ties that have strength in provinces and mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties. Provincial gov­ern­ments and mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties wield great power and have mas­sive bud­gets to ap­pease their fun­ders.

To sup­port our de­vel­op­ing democ­racy, the pri­vate sec­tor must openly fund po­lit­i­cal par­ties in a man­ner that sup­ports democ­racy as op­posed to a po­lit­i­cal party of their choice. Sev­eral years ago the Absa Group made do­na­tions to all po­lit­i­cal par­ties with a pres­ence in par­lia­ment. Each party re­ceived fund­ing pro­por­tion­ate to the num­ber of seats it had won in the pre­vi­ous elec­tion.

The sys­tem was not with­out crit­i­cism but at least it was fair and open to pub­lic scru­tiny. Many smaller par­ties of­ten re­marked that Absa’s do­na­tions were their sav­ing grace. This prac­tice needed to be repli­cated by other com­pa­nies, and that can still be done.

The big­gest change to the way elec­tion cam­paigns are con­ducted has to be ef­fected by the news me­dia. News or­gan­i­sa­tions wield a lot of power. Ev­ery elec­tion strat­egy has the news me­dia at its cen­tre. That is sim­ply be­cause the me­dia is the most ef­fec­tive con­duit to vot­ers. Par­ties and can­di­dates that get more me­dia cov­er­age tend to do bet­ter in elec­tions.

The ad­vent of 24-hour tele­vi­sion news is chang­ing the way we con­sume news. The com­pe­ti­tion be­tween the three play­ers in that space ben­e­fits po­lit­i­cal par­ties per­haps more than it does view­ers and vot­ers. Po­lit­i­cal par­ties, es­pe­cially the big three – the ANC, DA and EFF, have found a clever way to get free air­time for their ral­lies and me­dia con­fer­ences.

As the news chan­nels bat­tle to fill space with con­tent, live cov­er­age of events be­comes an easy and cheap so­lu­tion. When par­ties and politi­cians get such cov­er­age they say and do the darnedest things of­ten with­out be­ing held ac­count­able or factchecked. The more a politi­cian has out­ra­geous things to say, the more cov­er­age they get and the bet­ter their chances at the polls.

Un­til re­cently, most South Africans were con­cerned about cor­rup­tion and the im­punity that ac­com­pa­nied it. With a new ad­min­is­tra­tion led by Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa there is a grow­ing be­lief that cor­rup­tion and im­punity is be­ing tack­led.

Next on most vot­ers’ agenda is the econ­omy and jobs. Vot­ers want to hear more about how par­ties con­test­ing next year’s elec­tions will grow the econ­omy and cre­ate much needed jobs and the de­vel­op­ment of SMMEs. The me­dia has the power to force par­ties and their lead­ers to is­sue-based de­bates at town halls and tele­vi­sion stu­dios.

These would give vot­ers an op­por­tu­nity to make their choices on the ba­sis of what party has the best and cred­i­ble plans to tackle is­sues that mat­ter to them. This would also call for the me­dia to use knowl­edge­able an­a­lysts and com­men­ta­tors who can in­ter­ro­gate each party’s man­i­festo and call out use­less pop­ulist drivel.

Un­til we make that shift, po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns will re­main pro­hib­i­tively ex­pen­sive and about point­less op­tics. Af­ter a quar­ter cen­tury of our democ­racy and a slow econ­omy, it is time for elec­tion cam­paigns are run on is­sues and in a more cost-ef­fec­tive way.

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