Cyril Ramaphosa or not, he who pays piper will want to call the tune

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa at the ANC national conference in Nasrec, Johannesburg, where both contested the race for the presidency of the party. /Alaister Russell
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa at the ANC national conference in Nasrec, Johannesburg, where both contested the race for the presidency of the party. /Alaister Russell

Revelations that President Cyril Ramaphosa's CR17 campaign received hundreds of millions of rand to win over delegates at the ANC's 54th elective conference shines the spotlight on the influence of money in politics.

The question that arises is, if Ramaphosa's campaign received around R440m in donations, how many millions did the other campaigns, in particular that of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, receive?

The ANC's statement in respect to leaked emails detailing Ramaphosa's direct involvement with fundraising for his campaign (which he previously denied), states: "To date the ANC has not had a policy on how to deal with internal campaign mechanisms or raising of monies by individual members or groupings involved in such efforts."

For decades, the ANC has stuck to the narrative that its members do not campaign for positions. Indicating interest in leading the party has been frowned upon and discouraged in public.

In the lead-up to the Nasrec conference, prospective presidents of the governing party denied that they were actively seeking candidacy. They claimed, as disciplined members of the movement, to be waiting for the party to direct them and deploy them.

But it was clear early on, given the activities on the ground, including branded vehicles and clothing, that serious campaigning was under way.

The absence of legislation on party funding until recently has contributed to the creation of a permissive environment where the political and capital elite are emboldened to collude under the veil of secrecy.

Politicians and political parties approach corporates and business leaders and court them for their support in cash and in kind. Capital also seeks out politicians and offer support for their causes.

With no legal obligations to declare, the elites flout the moral and ethical obligation to conduct their dealings in a transparent manner. This is the perfect context for nefarious alliances to be formed and to thrive; for the national and public interest to be disregarded and for personal and private interests to take centre stage.

A governing party of the size and age of the ANC cannot claim ignorance of the disproportionate influence of money on politics.

Its structures and leaders should be well aware that they are there for the taking and there are many among the monied classes who would like to ensure that the ANC takes decisions that suit their profiteering agenda.

Ramaphosa's campaign may have been acting well within the law and party policy to raise funds. And so did the NDZ campaign, and all other campaigns that ran.

Frankly, this development may tarnish Ramaphosa's image as being beyond the fray in regard to notions and the reality of state capture.

But also, and more significantly, it confirms the great extent to which the political system has been vulnerable to manipulation and how democracy has been usurped by the elite to the detriment of the masses.

Both the economy and political system are elite projects with scant regard for the collective good of society.

They are the site of elite consensus or contestation over policy and the distribution of resources to serve narrow interests. Benefit to society, if there is any, comes as an aside.

The current crisis of SA has fomented in large part by this elite pact that is self-serving and aloof from the common good.

As ANC veteran Mavuso Msimang observed recently on eNCA, the corrupting influence of money is pervasive. They who pay the piper, whether it be Ramaphosa, Zuma, Malema or Maimane, expect to call the tune. Politicians are more loyal to those that pay. Patriotism is as elusive as a fountain in a desert.

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