Idasa goes to court over party donations

The case between the Institute for Democracy in South Africa (Idasa) and four political parties in South Africa being heard in the Cape High Court on Thursday seeks to make public the records of donations in excess of R50 000 to these parties.

When Idasa, an NGO, began its campaign to make public donations to South African political parties, the African National Congress, the Democratic Alliance, the Inkatha Freedom Party and the New National Party were the biggest political parties.

The NNP has now been much reduced and has all but been incorporated into the ANC.

Nevertheless, the case being heard on Thursday cites the NNP as the fourth respondent.

Idasa says in its heads of argument that the question is not whether the threshold amount is arbitrary but that it is a substantial amount.

“It stands to reason that a donation of more than R50 000 can influence decision-making.”

Responding to the question whether the threshold adequately protects any privacy interest, it will argue that given South Africa’s socio-economic context, “the vast majority of South Africans will be unable to make donations of an amount greater than this as a means of participating or supporting a political party”.

“Accordingly, privacy interests—to the extent that they are legitimately held—are adequately protected,” he said.

The applicants reject the notion that the political parties are private bodies but rather organs of state and public bodies within the meaning of the Constitution and the Promotion of Access to Information Act.

Idasa and officials Judith February and Brett Davidson are first, second and third applicants respectively.

In November 2003, when Idasa launched its “groundbreaking” litigation—as it described its own intiative—it said that corruption cases involving senior figures in the New National Party and Count Riccardo Agusta, as well as serious allegations relating to inducements paid to the ANC in relation to the arms deal, “highlight the dangers of the current absence of any regulation in private funding of political parties”.

“The gap amounts to a charter for influence-peddlers and mischief-makers,” said Idasa Right to Know programme manager Richard Calland.

Idasa is seeking to compel the four parties to disclose their private donors, the amount involved and the conditions under which the donation was made—in order to allow the public to consider what influence is brought to bear on political parties by large donors, including big business.

In a statement, Idasa said the case will be heard by Justice B M Griessel in the Cape High Court from 10am on Thursday.—I-Net Bridge

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