The ANC says there is no problem with President Jacob Zuma encouraging businesses to support the ruling party and amass fortunes in return.
"What the president said is that business must invest in the ANC if they want to see the country prosper and themselves thrive through that prosperity," ANC spokesperson Keith Khoza told the Mail & Guardian on Monday.
Zuma told business people at a dinner ahead of the ANC's 101st birthday celebrations in Durban that their fortunes would flourish if they backed the party.
"If you're a businessman, your business will multiply,” the Sunday Times quoted him as saying.
"Everything you touch will multiply. I've always said that a wise businessperson will support the ANC ... because supporting the ANC means you're investing very well in your business.”
In response, the Democratic Alliance (DA) called for clarity on the president's remarks as they implied that "by backing the ANC, businesses would be provided with financial reward".
"These remarks have the potential to severely compromise the principle of good governance, which our constitutional democracy fundamentally depends on," DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko said.
Mazibuko added that Zuma's comments provided further evidence of the president "fundamentally confusing the role of the state and party". The DA also accused the ANC of not supporting legislation aiming to regulate the issuing of state tenders and the business interests of politicians.
But the ANC quickly dismissed the opposition's concerns, claiming it was the only "business friendly" political organisation in South Africa.
"It's unsurprising the DA and other opposition parties don't understand what the ANC is saying as they don't enjoy the support of business," Khoza said.
He contested that even though the ANC-led government was pro-business, it encouraged the corporate sector to act responsibly.
"Business must undertake their work with the attitude that they are partners in developing the economy and relieving the plight of the less fortunate in this country," he added.
Chris Hart, chief economist at Investment Solutions said the president's comments were unacceptable.
"This can effectively be interpreted as an invitation for cronyism to thrive in this country," he said. Hart added strict policy and guidelines needed to be adopted to regulate how the ruling party interacted with business.
"It can be a very dangerous area to be playing in as it would economically neuter any political opposition," Hart said. "At the same time, it would be illegal for business to be done in such a manner with government, so one would hope it doesn't become the norm."
But Ebrahim Fakir, political analyst at the Electoral Institute for the Sustainability of Democracy in Africa, said Zuma's comments should not be overplayed.
"Governments favour certain forms of business in any case – wherever you are in the world," Fakir said. He referred to the relationship between international arms conglomerate BAE systems, which is seen to openly support the Conservative Party in the United Kingdom.
"Some governments will even go so far as tacitly supporting certain commercial groups or business entities based on the political party in power's interests," Fakir added.
But Fakir said Zuma's comments did blur the lines between the party and the state.
"The problem is that it was said by the head of a political party and it leads to the assumption that government policy might be slanted to certain business interests, and even particular businessmen, which is a serious problem."
Meanwhile, the Inkhatha Freedom Party (IFP) on Monday night came out strongly against Zuma's comments, saying the president promoted corruption by urging businesses to support the ANC for personal gain.
"It is shameful for the president of South Africa to make such a statement which amounts to encouraging corruption, at a time when South Africa is plagued by this curse," IFP deputy national spokesperson Joshua Mazibuko said in a statement.
"Simply put, the president was telling business people that the only way in which they could guarantee business opportunities and prosperity in this country is by joining the ANC."
He said it was clear the ANC was no longer about serving the country. Instead, all unscrupulous businesspeople whose mission was solely self-enrichment would now definitely join the party.
"The IFP calls on the business community in this country not to be party to any programme which promotes corruption. In addition we call on the ANC to distance itself from this unfortunate statement or else admit that they are paying lip service to the fight against corruption, which threatens to sink our country." – Additional reporting by Sapa