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By Jarryd Westerdale

Digital Journalist

Counting the cost of parliamentary seats – Did funders get their money’s worth?

Three parties heading to parliament for the first time earned 10 seats after receiving at least R115 million in donations.

Running a successful election campaign is a costly affair, especially when trying to be heard in a crowded room.

South Africa saw several parties contesting the 2024 national elections for the first time, and while the ballot showed party names and leader’s faces, they didn’t show the financial clout behind the party.

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The Electoral Commission of South Africa’s (IEC) rules around private funding state that parties must disclose donations above R100 000. Parties may also not accept donations of more than R15 million or from foreign governments and agencies, except for training purposes.  

Which parties had large private funding?

Using declarations registered with the IEC in the two years prior to the recently concluded elections, five parties stand out for their financial backing.  

Mmusi Maimane’s Build One South Africa (BOSA) declared R18.1 million with the IEC in just three quarters prior to the election.  

ALSO READ: ANC loses 71 seats in Parliament, DA gains 3, Zuma’s MK party scores 58 seats

ActionSA declared just over R66 million in the last two years, with Herman Mashaba throwing in at least R2 million of his own money into the pot.

Songezo Zibi’s Rise Mzansi raked in R31.8 million in just six months prior to the election, and the DA raised a considerable R181 million in donations in the two years leading up to the election.

One party had a short lived, yet costly existence. Change Starts Now launched in December 2023 and received R35.8 million in donations in January before dropping out of the election at the end of February.

Donations for ‘training purposes’

Private wealth can be spent at the holder’s discretion and one of the names that appears regularly on the declaration forms is that of Martin Moshal, founder of Moshal Program.

ALSO READ: Political party funding: Four parties declare second-highest donations to date

The philanthropist, whose organisation runs a scholarship programme in South Africa, made several multi-million rand donations to ActionSA, the DA and BOSA.

Another who made seven-figure donations to more than one of these parties was Mary Slack, daughter of Harry Oppenheimer. The names of Slack’s siblings appear on the DA’s donor list several times too.

How much per parliamentary seat?

Rise Mzansi may have the worst return on investment, having spent R15.9 million for each of their two seats.

BOSA were only fractionally less costly, as they also secured two seats in parliament, but at a cost of just over R9 million each.

Herman Mashaba was all smiles after the election but between himself and his funders, spent at least
R11 million for each of their six seats.

The DA have has over 20 years of brand recognition as well as a deep-rooted presence in many communities. However, based on the funds declared in the last two financial years, their 87 seats came at a negligible R2 million each.  

ALSO READ: ‘Markets will like the DA in a governing partnership’

Across the aisle, the ANC’s funders were predominantly The Batho Batho Trust and Chancellor House. As for the EFF, their most notable declaration in the last 24 months was a combined R2.64 million from Patrice Motsepe’s African Rainbow Minerals and Harmony Gold.

Much like the DA, the ANC and EFF have historical and ideological support that transcends capital outlay.

Together, the parties are tasked with forming South Africa’s seventh administration and the voters are waiting will bated breath.

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