Quote of the week

[Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro] possesses, however, few of his predecessor’s resources, lacking not just oil revenue but Chávez’s surplus of charisma, humour and political skill. Maduro, unable to end the crisis, has increasingly sided with the privileged classes against the masses; his security forces are regularly dispatched into barrios to repress militants under the guise of fighting crime. Having lost its majority in Congress, the government, fearing it can’t win at the polls the way Chávez did, cancelled gubernatorial elections that had been set for December last year (though they now appear to be on again). Maduro has convened an assembly to write a new constitution, supposedly with the objective of institutionalising the power of social movements, though it is unlikely to lessen the country’s polarisation.

Greg Grandin
London Review of Books
19 January 2007

Essop’s Fables and Party funding

The Mail & Guardian is reporting that the Presidency is denying that Minister Essop Pahad had lied to Parliament. In answer to a set of questions by the opposition, Mr Pahad had denied that the Presidency or anyone in the Presidency was involved in securing a corporate sponsorship for the (unlikeable) Ronald Suresh Roberts to write a biography of President Thabo Mbeki.

It turns out Mr. Pahad had acted “in his personal capacity” when he arranged a R1.2 million sponsorship from Absa sometime in 2004 and that the Presidency was therefore not involved in arranging the deal.

Right.

Should I call Mr Pahad a liar?

At the very least one could confidently state that he mislead Parliament. If I were to call Mr Pahad a liar and he sues for defamation I would be surprised if he is not, well, Ronald Suresh Robertsed by the courts.

But perhaps the more interesting question is why Absa – who also gave generous loans to a very dodgy client called Jacob Zuma – forked out more than a million Rand?

Is this what they call corporate social investment? Is it the same kind of investment that Daimler-Crysler made when they gave all those discounts on 4×4’s to people like Tony Yengeni?

Whatever the reasons for the donation, it turned out to be a good investment in the end. Mr Mbeki met with Barclays Bank officials in October 2004 and by March 2005 he gave an enthusiastic endorsement of the takeover of Absa by the same Barclays Bank.

It may well be that this was merely a happy coincidence. We would never know. But it does highlight the way in which the entanglement of business and the ruling party muddy the ethical waters.

At least we know about this donation because of the Ronald Suresh Roberts case. But political parties have no duty to declare donations made to them by big business and for all we know there may be hundreds of businesses donating large sums to the ANC in the hope of buying influence from the party.

Hardened ANC apparatchiks, will of course claim that the ANC will never, no never, sell out their principles and will never do favours – inside or outside of government – for companies merely because the companies donated a few million Rand to the ANC.

There might even be some people out there who believe them. Probably the same people who write letters to Father Christmas and still believe that there were Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq. Show me a political party who had the chance to do so and never took money from big business – even where it required some favours in return – and I will show you a political party out of power.

There is no evidence that those in charge of the ANC is superhuman and would not succumb to the same temptations that tripped up politicians as far a field as the UK, Italy, the USA, Nigeria and India.

All this just demonstrates again that we urgently need political party finance laws that would compel political parties to declare any substantial donations they receive. We do not want our politicians to be tempted by those unscrupulous people in business because even the best and the brightest might, one day, not be able to resist.

But of course, it is exactly because we need such laws that there is not a snowballs hope in hell that the present Parliament would pass it. When Idasa took the main political parties to court even the usually sanctimonious Democratic Alliance refused to reveal their sources of funding.

Now this is a worthwhile issue for Zwelenzima Vavi, Cosatu and the SACP to bleat about.

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