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South Africa’s President Zuma is defending the funding of political parties by business ‘on the basis that corporate citizens should invest in democracy’. But, observes Mphutlane wa Bofelo, these donations are not about supporting democracy, they are attempts to ‘cajole and capture the political establishment and the state to be beholden to and defensive’ of corporate interests.

President Jacob Zuma defends private corporate capital’s funding of political parties on the basis that corporate citizens should invest in democracy. The reality of the matter is that political parties, governments and states are always terrains of contestation among various class interests. Therefore corporate and finance capital will at all times use every resource and avenue at its disposal to cajole and capture the political establishment and the state to be beholden to and defensive of its interests. Already the tremendous amount of financial, technological, material and human resources, social and economic networks and organisation required for effective lobbying, advocacy and political pressure advantages the middle and upper classes when it comes to influencing social policy priorities and the economic trajectory of the government and public participation at various levels.

The power and social relations are such that even grassroots-based civil-society organisations are often captured by middle-class intellectuals and academics and political elites who often dilute the content and demands of the people’s struggles and use these forums as platforms to either decorate their curriculum vitae, gain or settle political scores or advance their political or academic careers. Very often scant material resources and scarce local funding also result in organised civil society being indebted to both private and public foreign funding, which seldom comes without overt and covert conditionalities that serve to compromise the organic nature of these formations. It is therefore very clear that any corporate citizen with pure and sincere intentions to enhance democracy will not invest in established, mainstream political parties but would rather direct its resources towards enhancing the capacity, skills, effectiveness and independence of grassroots community organisations, social movements and independent civic societies and labour unions, alternative media, community media, arts and cultural organisations, various types of advocacy and watchdog group and forums and campaigns that push for genuine public participation, transparency and accountability.

It is sardonic to talk of private corporate funding to political parties as supporting democracy when we have several cases of allegation of bribery and corruption involving government officials, public servants and private corporates. It is important to bear in mind of several cases where the media exposed that both the ruling party and the official opposition party received funding from dubious and corrupt individuals. Also to bear in mind is that a former commissioner of the police has just been found guilty of corruption involving not so kosher relations with a corporate citizen and that the current president won such a case against him on technical grounds.

The other paradox is that the very government that punts private funding to political parties as the promotion of democracy has not yielded to calls for legislation that makes it mandatory for political parties to make public the private corporates and business people that give them donations and funding. When you add into the mix the looming censorship of the media, the charade become just too satirical.


* Mphutlane wa Bofelo is a cultural worker and social critic.
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