For some time now it has been clear that the African National Congress has been running the best election campaign that money can buy. Compared to the other political parties, which have had to scrape together funds to contest the elections, South Africa's ruling party seems to have an almost bottomless war chest.
Some of the sources of the ANC's advantages in fundraising are known. The ANC, due to the current size of its parliamentary majority, receives some seventy percent of government funding - although it is not allowed to spend this on electioneering per se. Most corporate funders allocate the bulk of their political party funding to the ANC, although opposition parties receive a greater or lesser share as well.
The ANC has also, over the years, pursued various surreptitious funding schemes which may or may not have borne fruit in this election. Yet it seems that much of the ANC's massive, and possibly overwhelming, expenditure on this election campaign originates from foreign sources. On Friday the Mail & Guardian quoted "party insiders" as saying the ANC's election effort has been "heavily subsidised by the ruling parties in Libya, Angola, China and India." It has also apparently received funds from Equatorial Guinea.
This report seems to have been little noticed, which is surprising as this kind of funding poses as much, if not more of, a threat to South Africa's democracy than the efforts to subvert the National Prosecuting Authority. There are self-evident problems with this kind of funding. For one thing, for the ANC to actively solicit such donations obviously compromises South Africa's national security (defined as the continued ability of the country "to pursue the development of its internal life without serious interference ... from foreign powers.") For another, it poses clear dangers for the consolidation of democracy in this country.
It is for such reasons that many democracies ban foreign donations outright. In the United States - according to a Federal Electoral Commission brochure - the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) "prohibits any foreign national from contributing, donating or spending funds in connection with any federal, state, or local election in the United States, either directly or indirectly. It is also unlawful to help foreign nationals violate that ban or to solicit, receive or accept contributions or donations from them. Persons who knowingly and willfully engage in these activities may be subject to fines and/or imprisonment."
Such prohibitions apply in many other countries as well. In 2003 the Stockholm-based International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) produced a useful handbook on political party funding across the world (see here). It states that foreign donations to political parties were banned in forty out of the 111 countries surveyed. Among the countries where ANC-style foreign fundraising would be illegal were: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, the Dominican Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Honduras, Iceland, Japan, Latvia, Mexico, Portugal, Russia, Senegal, Thailand, and the United Kingdom.