Mamphela Ramphele. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON
Mamphela Ramphele. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON

NONPROFIT organisation My Vote Counts plans to take Parliament to court over its failure to enact legislation to regulate private funding of political parties.

My Vote Counts aims to improve the accountability, the transparency and the inclusiveness of elections and politics.

It said on Thursday it had tried to engage Parliament since 2012 on the issue, but to no avail.

Private party funding is a thorny issue in South Africa, and experts say secrecy around it allows corruption to flourish. Unlike countries such as the US and UK, South Africa does not have legislation or regulations governing private party funding.

In 2011, Parliament stymied an opposition proposal to enact legislation regulating the private funding of political parties.

The portfolio committee on private members’ bills and special petitions ruled that the proposal by Independent Democrats MP Lance Greyling would, if passed into law, be unconstitutional as it would violate parties’ rights to privacy and possibly freedom of association.

The African National Congress has said it would reject calls for parties to reveal their donors.

Gregory Solik, a co-ordinator at My Vote Counts, said yesterday that court papers were being prepared, and the organisation was likely to file them in the next six weeks.

It would argue that Parliament was duty-bound to enact legislation governing the private funding of political parties.

Mr Solik said secrecy of party funding had become untenable "as the lack of reporting and compliance mechanisms for public money erodes our democracy and creates an environment for party funding scandals to flourish".

The group said failure to make party funding information public was a major source of inequality in South Africa as it entrenched unequal access to power, led to corruption and empowered the well-connected at the expense of the majority.

Last month, a wide range of mass-based organisations and nongovernmental organisations (NGOs), including the My Vote Counts campaign, wrote to 14 political parties demanding to know their funders and amounts received. No party disclosed the information.

Responding to the letter, Democratic Alliance (DA) federal executive chairman James Selfe wrote that "the complex issue of regulating political party funding cannot be dealt with in a piecemeal fashion by calling merely for the disclosure of voluntary donations".

There were other issues that needed to be included in a future regulatory system, such as investment arms, donations from foreign governments, and the abuse of government resources and advertising to promote the interests of a particular political party.

In the absence of an agreed regulatory framework applicable to all political parties equally, the DA was not prepared to disclose its donors.

"Many of our donors believe — correctly in most cases — that their interests would be prejudiced were it to be known that they had donated to a major opposition political party," Mr Selfe wrote.

While Agang SA did not disclose its funders to the NGOs, its leader, Mamphela Ramphele, in an interview on eNCA this week, named the Oppenheimer family as well as renowned businessman Natie Kirsh as being among party funders.

In the letter to the NGOs, Agang SA said it had called for legislation to regulate party political funding to ensure transparent, equitable and fair funding that allowed democracy to flourish.