The ANC’s dubious donors

by The Editor

ANCFlagARTICLE: I am going to try and keep Inside Politics going but my new commitments will make writing more sporadic and so, along with the odd post from the archives, so to speak, I shall probably keep things shorter. That said, the article below, originally published in 2007, is still relevant today: a good illustration of how the ANC historically placed its own financial condition ahead of any human rights considerations that might curtail from whom it solicited donations. That fact still holds true today, even if the donors are more often domestic than international. It sets out of some of the party’s more more dubious funders and what the papers said about each donation at the time.

The ANC’s dubious donors

By: Gareth van Onselen

8 May 2013

The primary reason the ANC was forced to start looking to local business for financial support was that its overseas funding started to dry up after the party came to power in 1994.

Although obviously not the full confidential report presented to the ANC’s National Executive Committee, there is an abridged version of the financial report presented by ANC treasurer-general Makhenkesi Stofile to the 1997 national conference on the ANC’s website. Among other things, that report states:

“The ANC had largely depended on friendly countries and institutions for it’s funds. Most of these donors were in foreign lands. The 1994 elections created the perception or expectation that a ruling Party had access to the country’s resources. Also, the purpose for which we were funded, to defeat apartheid, had been accomplished. So our erstwhile donors were reluctant or unable to continue funding us. Our members’ contributions were and are negligible. In many ways we had become dependent on the President’s initiatives and those of some officials for income”.

Prior to the advent of South Africa’s new democracy, the ANC used to receive massive sums of money from foreign donors – a significant number of which were foreign governments – eager to help support the liberation struggle. Obviously, once the party came to power, it became increasingly difficult for foreign donors – and almost impossible for foreign governments – to justify huge donations to a governing party. (Nelson Mandela’s retirement from politics also dealt a blow to the party’s ability to solicit donations from abroad). But there was a period of transition, from around 1993 to 1999 where, despite being in power, the ANC still received substantial donations from abroad, a number of which came from highly dubious sources.

The sums themselves ranged anywhere from 2.6 million Pounds all the way up to as much as 50 million Dollars. In fact, if one just sets out the amounts of those key foreign donations to the ANC over this period, it is quite staggering that the ANC managed to be in the dire financial situation in which it found itself, in 1997. So which foreign donors gave money to the ANC over this period and how much did they give?

The following donations were reported in the media:

• King Fahd of Suadi Arabia (1990): 50 million Dollars: Business Day reported that the donation was made “at Mandela’s request”;
• Taiwanese Government (July 1993): 6 million Pounds Sterling;
• Taiwanese Government (June 1994): 10 million US Dollars: According to the Washington Post, the donation was made “to help the African National Congress repay a 20 million Dollar campaign debt”. The paper wrote that among those ANC officials involved in soliciting the donation were Thomas Nkobi (the ANC’s treasurer-general) and Thabo Mbeki. At the time, ANC secretary-general Cyril Ramaphosa denied any knowledge of the deal to the Mail & Guardian. A Taiwanese official said the payment helped delay South Africa’s recognition of China by at least two years;
• General Sani Abacha of Nigeria (1994): 2.6 million Pounds Sterling: writing for the Guardian, David Beresford claimed that the donation was made in cash. Beresford also wrote, “The ANC is known to have received substantial cash donations from the Moroccan government, which could explain the South African government’s recent reluctance to honour promises to recognise the Polisario Front’s Saharawi Republic”;
• General Sani Abacha of Nigeria (1995): 50 million US Dollars: According to the Lagos newspaper The News, the donation was made to “prepare the ground for an eventual rapport with a Mandela-led government”. The money was allegedly withdrawn from the security vote – “that nebulous fund that has become the veritable channel for both national and state leaders to misappropriate monies, or even embezzle them outright”.
• King Fahd of Saudi Arabia (1999): 10 million US Dollars;
• Colonel Muammar Gaddafi of Libya (1999): Unknown: The Sunday Telegraph wrote, “South African Foreign Ministry officials last week confirmed that Col Gaddafi has given Mr Mandela a significant donation – several million pounds – to be used in the ANC’s election campaign”. The story later claimed, “Mr Mandela is also believed to have received party funding from Beijing during a visit in which he notably failed to comment on China’s human rights record”;
• Sheik Zaid bin Sultan al-Nahayan of United Arab Emirates (1999): 10 million US Dollars;
• President Mahathir Mohammed of Malaysia (Unknown): 50 million US Dollars; and
• General Mohammed Suharto of Indonesia (Unknown): 60 million US Dollars: Business Day described the donations from Al-Nahayan, President Mohammed and King Fahd as follows: “President Mandela disclosed last night that Saudi Arabia’s King Fahd had donated 10 million US Dollars to the ANC. Another 10 million US Dollars was received from Shaikh Zaid bin Sultan al-Nahayan of the UAE… Al-Nahayan gave the money ‘on the spot’, he said… The 10 million donated by Fahd was in addition to 50 million US Dollars he donated to the ANC in 1990, Mandela said… He had asked Malaysian prime minister Mahatir Mohammed for 10 million US Dollars, but he gave 50 million”.

That’s a total of around 260 million US Dollars. If one took a very conservative ratio, of one Dollar for every four Rands, that works out to just over a billion Rand – and that’s just the donations outlined above – which found their way into the public domain. Seen in that light, quite how the ruling party has managed to find itself in the state of financial distress it is currently in really boggles the mind.

There are some notorious people in that collection of names. King Fahd, Sani Abacha and Mohammed Suharto all have dubious human rights track records. Colonel Gaddafi is hardly a shining example of democratic leadership. Indeed, the ruling party’s approach to fundraising is yet further evidence of the ANC’s drift away from a commitment to promoting human rights – not only has the ANC solicited money from people such as Mohammed Suharto, but often it has actually celebrated them.

The Sunday Times reported in May 1999, for example, that on his arrival in South Africa in 1998, president Suharto was greeted at the airport by then Deputy President Thabo Mbeki, 14 Cabinet Ministers, a guard of honour and a 21 gun salute. He was subsequently awarded the Order of the Cape of Good Hope, Gold Class – the highest honour available to foreigners – by President Nelson Mandela.

Wikipedia has the following to say about Suharto:

“In May 1999, Time Asia estimated Suharto’s family fortune at US$15 billion in cash, shares, corporate assets, real estate, jewelery and fine art. Of this, US$9 billion is reported to have been deposited in an Austrian bank. The family is said to control about 36,000 km² of real estate in Indonesia, including 100,000 m² of prime office space in Jakarta and nearly 40 percent of the land in East Timor. Over US$73 billion is said to have passed through the family’s hands during Suharto’s 32-year rule. On May 29, 2000, Suharto was placed under house arrest when Indonesian authorities began to investigate the corruption during his regime. In July, it was announced that he was to be accused of embezzling US$571 million of government donations to one of a number of foundations under his control and then using the money to finance family investments. But in September court-appointed doctors announced that he could not stand trial because of his declining health. State prosecutors tried again in 2002 but then doctors cited an unspecified brain disease. According to Transparency International, Suharto embezzled more money than any other world leader in history with the estimated US $15–35 billion embezzlement during his 32 years rule.”

(Click here for Wikipedia’s entry on King Fahd; here for its entry on Sani Abacha and here for its entry on Colonel Gaddafi.)

This article was first published on 29 January 2007.

  • Gareth van Onselen (@GvanOnselen) is the Editor of Inside Politics (@insidepols), Winner: Best Political Blog 2012.

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