It appears that South Africa has chosen relations with Taiwan over mainland China to repay an ANC debt, reports Gaye Davis
PRESIDENT Nelson Mandela has cited a $10- million donation from the Republic of China on Taiwan for the African National Congress’ general election campaign as one reason South Africa would not break ties with the island republic in favour of diplomatic relations with mainland China.
Mandela disclosed details of the R35-million grant while responding to questions after briefing political scientists last Tuesday on the pending trial of former defence minister Magnus Malan and 10 former colleagues.
The disclosure is certain to set a cat among the pigeons in diplomatic dovecotes. Cash-rich Taiwan has been intensively lobbying for the retention of diplomatic ties with South Africa and is pumping millions into the economy: this week it finalised an agreement to spend R141- million on a vocational training centre for demobilised SANDF soldiers.
Big business, however, sees recognition of China — with its 1,2-billion people and fast-growing economy — as essential despite its atrocious human rights record. As China refuses to recognise Taiwan, this would mean South Africa having to downgrade its links with Taiwan and face possible economic
But the disclosure has also deepened concerns about South Africa’s foreign policy-making, currently under heightened scrutiny after its failure in Nigeria.
Mandela told the gathering the money was given as “a donation and not a bribe” after he requested assistance and that the ANC would not repay a friend’s favours by “stabbing them in the back”.
Rumours that Mandela had secured the funds surfaced when he visited Taipei in July 1993. A joint statement by the ANC and the Taiwanese government at the time denied any such request had been made. This week the Taiwanese ambassador to South Africa, I-Cheng Loh, was still insisting no donation had been made.
But presidential spokesman Parks Mankahlana confirmed the grant, saying the amount was a “one-off” — and added that the Taiwanese government was providing “assistance” to various sections of the ANC and was “fully sponsoring” an ANC Youth League bursary
“There are reasons to be friends with Taiwan, but this aid would not influence our foreign policy decisions,” Mankahlana said.
Democratic Party leader Tony Leon would not agree. He said this week he had learned while visiting Taiwan in December 1994 that Mandela’s request for funds, made directly to Taiwanese president Lee Teng Hui, had been granted “within minutes”.
“Our whole foreign policy is based on the electoral debts of the ANC,” Leon said. “When the ANC is short of cash it runs off to the Gulf states or to Morocco for help. There is a porous wall between party and state in this
“There is something wrong and imminently corruptible about governments donating funds to political parties. In our view, our foreign policy is largely available for hire.
“If you make a substantial donation to the ANC you get special foreign policy considerations — whether or not these are in our country’s best interests or in keeping with the international posture South Africa is trying to keep.
“It is flawed, short-sighted and should be corrected by legislation.” Leon said if the issue was not addressed by Parliament’s ethics committee — currently focusing on the extent to which members should be required to disclose their financial interests — the DP would consider bringing private members’ legislation “on the question of foreign governments and political parties donating money to South African political parties”.
Mankahlana said: “We are writing a new constitution and will look at all these questions. The situation is not helped by people jumping up and down making noises intended to score cheap political points.”
Dr Sara Pienaar, national director of the Institute for International Affairs, said: “Quite obviously Taiwan was buying favours for the future — and it does look from the Taiwanese point of view as if it has worked. It is not a very healthy phenomenon. Foreign governments should not be funding our political parties — but circumstances last year were very peculiar.”
The ANC had an election campaign to fight and its old friends were not in a position to help, Pienaar said. “But there should be a policy that political parties do not receive any funds from any foreign government and that if any grants are received, they should be made public.”
Mandela would be able to wield “considerable influence” over any foreign policy matter, Pienaar said. “There is no doubt that important foreign policy decisions in this country are made by the president himself.”
While Taiwan’s past human rights record is not spotless, it has spent the past 10 years democratising. Mandela told the political scientists it had done nothing to deserve de- recognition: it was simply that China desired this. South Africa saw the issue as a domestic Chinese problem. It wanted to recognise both Chinas and had told the People’s Republic of China so.
But the funding raises inevitable questions about the ANC’s links with other countries. In its pre-election foreign policy manifesto, the organisation committed itself to “canonise human rights” in its foreign relations.
In May, after he had come under fire for twice visiting Indonesia — internationally condemned and shunned by the ANC for years for its brutal occupation of East Timor — Mandela revealed the ANC had received substantial donations from that country.
Strong rumours have been circulating about whether Moroccan funds for the ANC have anything to do with South Africa failing to carry out its promise of diplomatic recognition for Africa’s last colony — the Polisario-led Saharawi Republic, struggling for independence from Moroccan control. Questions have also been asked about whether South Africa’s disastrous softly-softly approach towards Nigeria was not perhaps founded in financial backing the ANC received from previous rulers of the oil-rich country.
Foreign affairs ministry spokesman Pieter Swanepoel said any decision on the two Chinas would be made by Parliament. “It will be a political decision, up to the political parties to decide,” he said. “Foreign Affairs will have to execute it.”
ANC MP Raymond Suttner, chair of Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Portfolio Committee, said he had no personal knowledge of any donations to the ANC. The question of recognising China was “under discussion in ANC ranks and has still to be decided by the collective leadership”, he said.
Said Leon: “I’m not saying the Taiwanese have no case. But in my view the continued diplomatic recognition of the ROC is based not on the merits but the fact that they paid off the ANC. The DP had yet to formulate a position on the question of the two Chinas, he
l ANC representative Ronnie Mamoepa this week failed to respond to a Mail & Guardian request that the ANC provide information about donations it had received from foreign governments. ANC secretary-general Cyril Ramaphosa, contacted for comment, said: “We have received donations from a number of countries, but I do not have the details at