The South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU) firmly objects to the ruling delivered by the Constitutional Court on the Cyril Ramaphosa 2017 African National Congress (ANC) presidential campaign (CR17). The ruling shows how out of touch Con Court judges are with the rising anger of people here – and everywhere – about a deeper state capture than the Sunday school picnic of the Zupta era.

If there was a similar process to reveal the donors behind former President Jacob Zuma’s electoral financiers, we would support that, too. If Nkosana Dlamini-Zuma’s reported hundreds of millions of rands in campaign contributions also bought delegate blocs and were also potentially rewarded by promises of favourable treatment, this too should be revealed.

We will never forget that in October 2015, then President Zuma announced to a gala dinner at Galagher Estate, “I always say to business people, if you support the ANC, you are investing very wisely. If you don’t invest in the ANC, your business is in danger.”

That kind of state capture is signified by how the ANC elites dropped the Freedom Charter and Reconstruction and Development Programme, replacing these ideals with left-wing rhetoric about Expropriation Without Compensation, and Radical Economic Transformation, as a veil for the reality of utterly extreme austerity and neoliberalism.

This is a pattern now common across the world. Former liberation movements have been drifting towards corporate sponsors since the 1970s.

Think of those we once held in high regard for opposing 1970s and 80s authoritarians and then for winning state power: Cory Aquino (Philippines), Jean-Bertrande Aristide (Haiti), Benazir Bhutto (Pakistan), Kim Dae Jung (South Korea), Vaclev Havel (Czech Republic), Michael Manley (Jamaica), Megawati Sukarnoputri (Indonesia), Robert Mugabe (Zimbabwe), Sam Nujoma (Namibia), Samora Machel (Mozambique), Daniel Ortega (Nicaragua), Jerry Rawlings (Ghana) and Lech Walesa (Poland).

Then add to this list all the “Third Way” rulers of the West’s Labour Parties and Social Democratic Parties (and in the U.S., Democratic Party) since the early 1980s, especially the likes of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown in Britain, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama in the U.S., Helmut Schmidt and Gerhard Schröder in Germany, François Mitterrand and François Hollande in France, and Jean Chrétien, Paul Martin and Justin Trudeau in Canada, and the list continues into every capitalist state where corporates have corrupted democrats and captured state power.

We even include China on this list, since its Communist Party is turning 100 years old this week, but working-class interests are no longer represented in the way its corporations operate in China, here in our region and many other places.

These rulers were often supported by working-class people, and yet in each case, there was a decisive betrayal and rejection of the dreams of the working people in favour of corporate profits.

And what they all have in common is that their parties stooped low and surrendered to corporate power, for money. In so many of these cases, the defining feature of the political systems was those financial contributions to elite campaigning within and between parties became legalised corruption.

This was the case in a South Africa, in which Nelson Mandela was forced to go to corrupt regimes and corrupting corporations in the early 1990s, to raise funds for the 1994 election. It was the case with the ANC Secretary General – Cyril Ramaphosa starting in 1991 – also implicated in the selling out of our aspirations for socio-economic freedom.

In two recent cases, Jeremy Corbyn in the UK and Bernie Sanders in the U.S., there were genuine contests for power because of grassroots mobilisations that overwhelmed the corporate elites, albeit temporarily.

But these are exceptions that prove the rule: with corporate power so entrenched in politics, it is nearly impossible to win, working within the system.

In the U.S. for example, the “Citizens United versus Federal Election Commission” Supreme Court ruling a decade ago made unlimited financial contributions by corporations fully legal. This was a way of drowning out the votes of the ordinary masses, by suffocating their own messages about poor and working peoples’ interests, with corporate campaign contributions.

In 2008-09, during the world financial meltdown, ordinary people started to express how angry they were, which in most countries led to what even a right-wing U.S. thinktank (Center for Strategic and International Studies) termed the “Age of Mass Revolt.” From 2011, protests increased to world-record levels, starting with Occupy Wall Street, moving through the Arab Spring, and into scores of revolts that tossed out ruling elites.

Sometimes – such as 2016 in the UK Brexit vote or the U.S. election won by Donald Trump – the right-wing trends in the world labour movement overwhelmed our progressive forces, so angry working-class people voted against their own interests. They did so in the Philippines, India, Brazil, Hungary, Poland, and other countries, thanks to right-wing populist backlashes against the corporate-bought political establishment. This is never an appropriate response, because with it comes fascistic tendencies, xenophobia, racism, sexism and ecocide.

That is why we object to the way the elites have managed South Africa’s internecine battles between two corrupt ANC factions. On 1 July 2021, the Constitutional Court ruled in favour of President Ramaphosa, making a mundane finding that he and his son did not personally enrich themselves from CR17 funds, and that he did not mislead Parliament on this. We note that Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng offered a minority view that is important to consider.

The Constitutional Court also ruled that it was not the jurisdiction of Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane to investigate the private lives of individuals, so long it was not related to government corruption. She has herself so definitely sided with the pro-Zuma faction that it is impossible to take her work seriously, so that finding did not surprise us.

Yet all of this is unsatisfactory. Chief Justice Mogoeng argued that President Ramaphosa did indeed benefit and that to assure the society no undue influence was bought by CR17 contributors, full disclosure is necessary. We concur with this obvious finding.

While it may be correct that President Ramaphosa did not use donations to enrich himself – why would he if he has more money (around R7 billion according to Forbes several years ago) than he could ever spend in his lifetime – or that he misled parliament, nevertheless funding from big business and rich constituents in the ANC obviously distorts internal electioneering.

Is a fair democratic contestation within the commanding heights of the main liberation party now even possible, when both sides mobilise hundreds of millions of rands, and in Ramaphosa’s case, a reported R1 billion?

Such an overdose of contributions from the rich means those competitors who do not have financial muscle to pull off a well-oiled campaign – here meaning a campaign in which greasy party delegates are blatantly paid off – will be fatally disadvantaged. Especially in an organization like ANC, where electioneering and party slates are driven on the basis of buying supporters, huge external funding contributions in internal party leadership contestations pose a huge threat to the fairness of democratic elections.

This assessment is even more important when it comes to inter-party political contestations, either at local or national level. Within four months, the municipal elections will be held, and they too may be overly influenced by vote-buying.

If the ANC continues to contest elections on a huge budget drawn from rich donors including corporations with state procurement contracts like Bosasa, these will distort our hopes for free and fair contestation, especially for smaller political parties with inadequate public funding.

Not that there is anything left of fair democratic elections in the ANC, because factionalism long ago ruptured the electioneering process into patronage battles, crony-capitalist camps, and proximity to looting.

On a broader, and even more concerning level, business magnates always seem to capture politicians – as noted, not only in South Africa but nearly everywhere else – in order to influence economic policies and score contracts with government.

These magnates and their corporations may claim that the Constitution gives them property rights, “juristic personhood” (so a company enjoys the same rights that we humans do) and freedom of association and expression. These rights are indeed what the neoliberal power bloc forced into South Africa’s Constitution in 1996, supported by Ramaphosa, Thabo Mbeki, Jacob Zuma and others who led the process.

But if we ever have a genuinely popular constitutional assembly in South Africa – which we must remind our society has a corporate elite that PwC’s biannual Economic Crime report typically considers to be the first-ranked (or last year second-ranked) corrupt bourgeoisie on earth – then these rights to buy politicians will disappear.

The ANC, whose leaders can squeeze donations from corporations in exchange for fraudulent deals with the state, must be tossed out of power, and with them, the ability of capital to state-capture government via party-political contributions.

The entire approach to political funding should be overhauled, and it is a terrible shame the Constitutional Court has conned the society by ruling in favour of Ramaphosa, leaving this corrupt state-purchase system intact.

Hence there will always be suspicions that those who donated to CR17 may have benefitted from subsequent state contracts, as a result of their donations. These suspicions remain strong today, as reflected in some of CR17’s key personalities who since February 2018 have done remarkably well in gaining state influence.

One example is the Presidential Climate Change Coordinating Commission, which this week protected South African and multinational corporate coal, gas, and oil companies from the urgent need to cut planet-threatening emissions The Commission reportedly is suggesting that the economy reduces the tons of CO2 emissions from the existing 440 annually, by merely 20 tons.

If the Commission manager, Dr Crispian Olver, who also coordinated many contributions to CR17, intended to protect the likes of coal companies (we recall that Shanduka Coal was formerly Ramaphosa’s personal empire), he appears to have bought a very substantial amount of influence, to do just that.

And we appreciate that the Commission’s political leader, Valli Moosa, has recently been at the cutting edge of demands for political party funding transparency. Yet it is curious that his corrupt role – which a former Public Protector scolded him for in 2008, due to his improper conflict of interest serving as both Eskom chair and ANC Finance Committee member – still haunts the construction of the Medupi and Kusile coal-fired power plants.

The construction contracts mainly benefited the Japanese firm Hitachi. In 2015 that firm paid a $19 million fine to the U.S. government after Foreign Corrupt Practices Act prosecution, for, in effect, bribing the ANC through Chancellor House co-ownership, to get the Eskom contracts.

And yet Moosa remains extremely influential in climate policy. Because of its failure to address South Africa’s carbon addiction seriously, his Commission will soon be considered a major contributor to the worst crisis the world has ever faced.

We will never forget his failure to insist on serious emissions cuts and a Just Transition for exposed workers – and we will always ask Olver and Moosa whether CR17 was a means by which they re-entered the South African state, to serve fossil capital’s blatant self-interests.

So, if President Ramaphosa appears – in such instances – to be captured by donors when putting Presidential Commissions together, or otherwise benefiting the corporates, then the Constitutional Court ruling confirms that our judicial elite approves of the capture of ANC by its donors.

What that, in turn means is judicial approval for the ANC’s turn to corporate interests. This includes the abandonment of the Freedom Charter’s clause to share the nation’s wealth – instead providing conditions for soaring inequality since 1994 and especially since February 2018 – and instead, the ruling party’s capture by global captains of capital.

After such a heroic struggle against apartheid-capitalism, the ANC became the mirror opposite of a liberation movement. Instead of hosting the fight against poverty, inequality and unemployment, the ANC hosts the capitalists who have enjoyed making each of these worse than they were in 1994.

This is obvious insofar as intra-class factional battles between fractions of South African – and sometimes global – capitalism have birthed political battles between their candidates. Towards the 2017 Nasrec conference, it was clear that the “look east” sub imperialist bloc associated with BRICS-friendly capitalists had bet on Mr Zuma’s camp.

And the Western allies of the main imperialist powers, usually encapsulated as White Monopoly Capital and Western Multinational Corporations, had bet everything they could muster – R1 billion! – on President Ramaphosa.

It is against this background that business funding for politicians and political parties is anathema to organised labour. Only from this perspective, can we understand that internecine battles between factions within the ruling party are against the interests of the working class. These battles serve only the interests of their handlers.

If our commentariat, journalists and political scholars have not figured this out, they should retreat for a serious period of study and self-reflection.

SAFTU supported the legal bid by the Economic Freedom Fighters to unseal the documents revealing who donated to the CR17 campaign, and we are anxious to learn what strings those donors may have pulled – and what benefits they received – since then.

That information can help us vindicate our position, that, the state already belongs to the ruling capitalist class and therefore state-capture merely means a vacillation between capitalist cronies of the contending political camps. Unlike those who would have us believe otherwise, neither the Zuma/Magashule nor the Ramaphosa factions represent the interests of the working class, of women, of the youth and elderly, of society, of ecology. They represent the interests of their capitalist allies, and all they seem to want is to keep the flow of financial bribery uninterrupted.

In our view genuine democracy suffered a crushing defeat with the Constitutional Court ruling. From now on, corporations will free to use money to dilute and undermine democracy while drowning the voices of ordinary people.

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