The CR17 question

Mugabe Ratshikuni asks what all the fuss actually about

Campaign Funding is a Form of Lobbying

Following the recent leaks of bank statements revealing that some high-profile ANC politicians and members of the executive, alliance leaders and ANC members and leaders received financial disbursements as part of President Matamela Ramaphosa’s 2017 campaign for the ANC presidency, there has been much uproar, with a call for certain cabinet ministers to be removed who allegedly benefitted financially from their support for Ramaphosa.

It appears that the campaign to portray President Ramaphosa as a “typically corrupt ANC politician” who offers nothing new with his “New Dawn” has gained momentum with all these revelations that have found much mileage on social media platforms. In reflecting upon this brouhaha, one was left with a few obvious questions. Is there anything innately wrong with using money within a political campaign (whether an internal party one or external) to enable one to win a political contest?

What, if anything, is wrong with individuals or groups being given money and resources to go and promote a certain political perspective or view within the context of a political campaign? I mean, politics is about the contestation of power and within that, there are different class and stakeholder interests represented, so why do we naively assume that money won’t be involved in this contestation of diverse and divergent interests?

In the interests of fairness and the spirit of democracy, one would of course need to somehow regulate this aspect of a political campaign, to ensure that divergent views have an equal chance of succeeding, but that does not in any way imply the complete exclusion of money as a facilitatory lobbying tool in campaigning.

To dismiss that completely would be “Alice in Wonderland, pie in the sky” type thinking. I am well aware that in a society where being politically correct and saying the “right thing” (even if one doesn’t believe in it or uphold it in one’s practice) is valued above facing up to reality this could be considered as highly controversial and “counter-revolutionary” by some, but lying to ourselves won’t bring about any desired change to the world we live in. The reality, as the poet William Wordsworth asserts is that, “the world is too much with us.”

In democracies such as the USA, the issue of campaign finance reform has been a hot topic for decades now, with arguments for and against regulating campaign finance being advanced, but the question from a democratic perspective should be whether limiting the amount of money that one can spend on political advocacy would not be an infringement on people’s right to express support for whatever candidate they prefer, given whatever political agenda they want to advance.

Campaign funding is after all, just another form of lobbying in support of a certain agenda within the context of a democratic contest. Regulation of some sort is necessary to ensure that we don’t create a “democracy of the rich” where “he with the most money wins”, but it can’t be that we approach such an issue with a black or white, either or mindset in the world of real politik.

Is there any evidence that state resources where used in President Ramaphosa’s ascendancy to the ANC presidency, and if not, then what is the fuss all about? An ironic question, if we want to prohibit or limit the usage of money in campaign politics would be, what price do we then put on the right to free speech and expression, which campaign funding is an expression of? There have been no revelations so far of any corruption or corrupt activities by President Ramaphosa and the people who supported him in the campaign, so it would appear that all the fuss just amounts to much ado about nothing.

The better discussion in my view would be how we would seek to advance openness and transparency in both intra and inter party political contest political funding in order to strengthen our democracy, but to take a superfluous, puritanical position on the issue would be highly unrealistic and impractical in my view. English author William Ralph Inge summed it up best when he said that, “it is useless for the sheep to pass resolutions in favour of vegetarianism while the wolf remains of a different opinion.”

Mugabe Ratshikuni works for the Gauteng provincial government; He is an activist with a passion for social justice and transformation. He writes here in his personal capacity.