“If the aim of the public protector was to reveal the ANC’s worst-kept secret about presidential contestations and smoke out contributors to one of the candidates at the party’s 2017 Nasrec national conference, she has been remarkably successful,” writes ANC NEC member Joel Netshitenzhe.
In an Op-ed published in Business Live, Netshitenzhe, who headed the policy and coordination advisory unit in the presidency until the end of December 2009, says “If the aim of the public protector was to embarrass the CR17 campaign and, through this, inject into public debate reflections on the funding of intraparty contestations, she has done quite well.“
In part, Netshitenzhe says, “This is because it is easy to develop a narrative of “capture by private interests” from leaks such as these, irrespective of detailed explanations and the track record of the post-Nasrec incumbent (Ramaphosa).”
He says the whole saga has shifted focus onto the thorny issue of political party funding, an area in desperate need of scrutiny and reform. “As speculation swirls, a legitimate discussion has arisen about funding political activities and transparency.”
Netshitenzhe continues, “It may well be that, as a matter of principle, to avoid what the public protector refers to as ‘the risk of some sort of state capture by those donating these monies’, there should be transparency around any political donations.”
“But does this necessarily mean that all political donations are meant to, and do in fact, buy favours?” Netshitenzhe asks.
“Assuming the leaked list of CR17 donors is accurate, it seems to contain names of people who were profoundly concerned about the danger of state capture. Most of these individuals were openly involved in the public campaign on how to revitalise the integrity of the state, and identified with Ramaphosa’s campaign platform on this issue as well as the need to reignite economic growth.”
Netshitenzhe pointed to the widespread and age-old practice of diverse parties and formations coming together in a “substantive commonality of interest, with minimum areas of agreement.”
“As the title of the public protector’s report suggests, it was about ‘an improper relationship between the president and African Global Operations (AGO, formerly known as Bosasa)’.
“Without detracting from the right of the protector to expand an investigation, the essence of this case was about clarifying how a misleading question in parliament led to a misleading answer. This the president later acknowledged and corrected,” Netshitenzhe writes.
He says the CR17 team has explained how the funds were raised and used, along with the “intricacies of Ramaphosa’s involvement,” adding, that it included an “explicit understanding that no favours would derive from making the contributions.”
Further, Netshitenzhe says, in line with the finding of the parliamentary ethics committee in the case of the leader of the DA during his own campaign, they (CR17) “argue that there was no personal benefit and therefore no obligation to declare.”
He says there is now a temptation on the part of some within the ANC to come up with donor lists relating to the other Nasrec presidential candidates.
“Besides, the danger of self-mutilation at the instance of external forces, splashing mud does not address the fundamental issue of how to manage internal political contestations — let alone the fundamental national challenges of higher rates of investment, job creation and poverty reduction,” Netshitenzhe says.
At its most recent National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting, the ANC agreed to review internal electoral processes, including “rules and regulations for lobbying and funding of individual campaigns for leadership.”
Netshitenzhe concedes that while recent experiences have much to do with this decision, the ANC acknowledges that this “tendency started to grip national conference campaigns in the build-up to the 2007 Polokwane conference… Since then it has become standard fare, and the organisation has lost its innocence on this matter.”
He says the practice had been brewing in sub-national and some league structures even before then.
“At the extreme end of the scale are the observations the ANC has made about actual vote-buying at conferences. In some instances, public resources are deployed in such activities,” he says.
Netshitenzhe says there was recently an allegation — which in 2018 drew the attention of the Hawks — “of branch delegates in Maluti-a-Phofung being employed as general workers to support a particular slate at the Nasrec conference.”
Netshitenzhe then dealt with the challenge of “money politics” going forward.
“The starting point in this regard is whether the Political Party Funding Act provides for internal party contestations. Were the legislators aiming to address this matter when they included provisions that no ‘person or entity may deliver a donation to a member of a political party other than for party political purposes’ and, inversely, that a ‘member of a political party may only receive a donation … on behalf of the party’?”
Even if this may not have been the case, these assertions can form a basis around which regulations on support for any candidate in any political contestation can be formulated. Or the law itself may need to be amended to take into account internal party contestations.
Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane has been found by the courts to have got many fundamental things wrong; the strongest censure was recently delivered by the Constitutional Court in the form of personal punitive costs.
“There may yet be serious consequences for her,” Netshitenzhe says.
“But on the issue of funding in internal party contestations, perhaps we need to cut her some slack. She seems to have blundered her way into becoming an unconscious tool of history.”