A president can’t be parachuted in like a CEO, warn leaders on business’s Jardine punt
With money in politics a given, democracies the world over require political funding declarations to ensure integrity and accountability. Questions of ethics and process arise with word funders could dish out R1-billion to determine the presidential face of an opposition coalition to unseat the ANC in 2024.
South Africa, unlike the US, does not directly elect its president. To get into the Union Buildings, the would-be president would first have to be an MP. It’s a non-negotiable constitutional must.
“At its first sitting after its election … the National Assembly must elect a woman or a man from among its members to be the president,” says Section 86(1).
And getting into Parliament depends on being a member of a political party in the current electoral system.
Setting up a political party is tough, time-consuming and troublesome on many levels.
Speak to anyone – Mmusi Maimane, who set up Build One South Africa after leaving the DA; newcomer Rise Mzansi headed by ex-corporate communicator, former editor and writer Songezo Zibi; or ActionSA under ex-businessman Herman Mashaba.
Going to the National Assembly as an independent is an option for the first time in the 2024 elections. It now requires only 1,000 signatures following Monday’s Constitutional Court judgments upholding the Electoral Amendment Act.
The only other route to Parliament is through getting on the list of one of the parties in the Multi-Party Charter (MPC). And that means applying for membership of that party and undergoing a selection process which includes an exam, interviews before a panel, speeches and more.
Crucially, the MPC will not be on any ballot in the 2024 elections. Voters will make their cross for the DA, Freedom Front Plus, IFP, Action SA, African Christian Democratic Party or the others.
On the back of these votes for the individual parties, the MPC’s electoral showing will determine its future – and, by implication, voters’ sentiments towards coalitions.
That a broad framework of cooperation has been agreed at this point ahead of elections is unprecedented, and comes in the wake of pundits’ predictions that the ANC could be pushed below the 50% plus one winning threshold.
Regardless of what so-called powerful political funders may want, constitutional and statutory requirements clearly set out what must happen for someone to even stand the chance of contesting for the presidency.
To recap – the potential candidate must be an MP, and to get there means applying for membership in an existing political party, establishing a new party or going independent.
Coincidentally, to get that touted R1-billion donation would take quite a few of those powerful political funders. The rules and regulations limit private donors, both individuals and entities, from donating more than R15-million per party, per year.
So, that’s what faces the now former businessman, one-time director-general and academic Roger Jardine if he were to enter politics – or even be a presidential candidate – for the 2024 elections.
‘You can’t buy the presidency’
Word of Jardine entering politics first emerged in October, as this reporter wrote in Daily Maverick. On the back of weeks of whispering, the spin garnered pace over the weekend when the Sunday Times reported that R1-billion would be made available by opposition funders to have Jardine the face of the opposition MPC coalition.
“Powerful financial backers of the MPC … are said to be insisting that a candidate with the necessary gravitas and credentials front the MPC’s electoral efforts if the grouping is to come anywhere near the 50% plus needed to form a government,” reported the Sunday Times.
It remains unclear who these political financiers would be, at least until the next round of party political funding declarations to the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC).
What is clear is a certain measure of arrogance in thinking that offering R1-billion would ensure being able to pick who’s who in politics and the state. And that this would simply be okay.
How Jardine publicly responds to this will be crucial.
No one is so naive to not believe that money in politics is a reality. But backroom funders effectively pushing a cash-for-jobs line may well play into the public disenchantment with politicians and political governance, be that in Parliament or the Union Buildings.
Already, the public trust deficit is fracturing South Africa’s democratic framework.
A 2021 Afrobarometer survey has the governing ANC at 27% support and opposition parties at 24%, while a 2018 IEC survey showed just one in five South Africans trusted politicians. The regular Human Science Research Council social attitude surveys bear out this decline in public trust.
“You can’t buy the presidency,” said Freedom Front Plus Western Cape leader and Chief Whip Corné Mulder on Monday, adding: “South Africa is not a company where you can parachute in a CEO.”
Politics was about cooperation and working together. But Jardine would be welcome to apply for membership and go through the necessary party political processes, Mulder added.
The FF+ is unlikely to be Jardine’s first choice, nor would it be the IFP. But his discussions with the DA have been confirmed all round.
“[Jardine] is a serious person who has clear talents. If he was to make an application for membership, we would gladly accept it,” said DA leader John Steenhuisen in a text message on Monday.
“Any discussion of being our [presidential] candidate or an MP will need to go through the internal processes of the party.”
Political parties in the MPC have been at pains to point out that no one in the grouping has held discussions with Jardine, or spoken of him as the presidential candidate for the 2024 elections. And there’s definitely been no discussions about a R1-billion pledge.
On Monday after a meeting of MPC leaders to discuss Jardine as the presidential candidate and, presumably, also the touted R1-billion funding, the charter’s joint statement said it was too early to talk about a joint presidential candidate.
Each leader in the MPC was “capable of providing the leadership needed for a new multi-party coalition”, according to the statement.
The IFP is on public record that its party leader would be the presidential candidate, as is ActionSA whose national chairperson, Michael Beaumont, on Monday added: “Even if [Jardine] were the right candidate, you can’t buy your way into the presidency.”
The DA would be one option – assuming Jardine would be prepared to go this route – although it would mean Steenhuisen having to step back.
“That would be a matter that is subject to the DA internal processes. But as I have said from the beginning, my job as DA leader is to get as many DA voters in the box and as many DA MP/MPLs elected as possible,” said Steenhuisen.
Time is running out
The tough question for the DA would be whether a R1-billion carrot could justify political manoeuvrings to accommodate Jardine in its political project to boost votes beyond the party’s internal polling.
Boosting numbers at the hustings is a DA mainstay. When the party’s 2019 voting support dipped to 20.77%, down from 22.23% in the 2014 elections, then-leader Mmusi Maimane had to fall on his sword.
Some three years ago, word emerged of former finance deputy minister Mcebisi Jonas looking to establish a political movement offering alternatives to voters. Mostly Eastern Cape focused – it’s Jonas’ home turf – it didn’t really fly. And that’s despite Jonas having a constituency much like Jardine’s.
What this underscores is the overall difficulty of shifting electoral behaviour. The trend from 2009 to 2019 shows that despite increasing numbers of registered voters – 26,756,649 in 2019, up from 23,181,997 in 2009 – voter turnout dropped to 66.5% in 2019, down from 77% in 2009, according to the IEC.
“Roger believes that if we are serious about forming a new government that will work to reclaim our shared future and restore hope in our democracy, then we have to engage and collaborate with those who are not satisfied with the current political choices they have, and also work to strengthen existing political parties,” said a spokesperson for Jardine on Monday.
Nothing is yet cast in stone and no firm decisions have been taken anywhere. But time is running out ahead of what’s widely expected to be a May poll.
In South Africa’s tjatjarag politics, what’s needed is not cash for quick fixes, but the hard work of democratic confidence-building.
Ethics and integrity are needed – yes, even in electoral politics – to smash the established networks of nepotism and patronage that lay waste to South Africa’s political economy and society. DM