THERE is something ironic about the media storm surrounding the DA’s acceptance of donations totaling a reported R400 000 from one or more associates of the Gupta family. Alongside the millions channelled into the ANC from a variety of business leaders and companies over the past decade or so, the DA windfall is trivial.
Patrice Motsepe, who is said to be South Africa’s richest man with a fortune estimated at R20-billion is reported to have paid more than that – R500 000 – just to sit at ANC President Jacob Zuma’s table at the party’s 101st birthday banquet.
Back in 2001, the late Sandile Majali donated R11-million to the ANC days after being given a major state oil contract.
And then there is Chancellor House, the entity allegedly set up to fund the ANC from business dealings facilitated by influential people aligned to the party.
That political parties solicit and accept donations from business is an inevitable part of political life.
They have to do that to finance their election campaigns, fund their offices across the country and pay non-elected staff. The bigger the party, the more donations needed.
It is also common cause that many of the big companies that make political donations do so to a range of parties and not just to one.
The scale of the donations may reflect their ideological preference or just the relative size of the different parties. Corporations that support the DA mostly make matching donations to the ANC.
Those that support the ANC often make proportionate contributions to opposition parties.
There is nothing wrong with people and companies supporting the parties that best represent their values, their business interests or their commitment to democracy.
But it would be very wrong if donors expected or, worse, received promises of contracts or particular legislative outcomes. That is where political funding crosses the line into the corruption zone.
The latest furore, in which DA leader Helen Zille has been forced to make a series of concessions and disclosures about donations from Gupta friends and companies, underlines the danger inherent in walking that line between legitimate and corrupt party funding.
According to her version of events, which other players have contested in reports carried by The New Age newspaper, she stopped taking Gupta cash as soon as their close association with Zuma and his family became known. But that choice was exercised behind the screen of secrecy that blankets political party funding.
Far better would be to compel a measure of transparency in party political funding – at least for donations above a certain threshold.