South Africa’s unholy trinity: BIG political parties, BIG Corporations and the BIG government

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South Africa - Cape Town - 28 October 2019 - The South African Flag.  The flag of South Africa was designed in March 1994 and adopted on 27 April 1994, at the beginning of South Africa's 1994 general election, to replace the flag that had been used since 1928. Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

South Africa’s economic woes are often characterised as stemming from corruption, the 9 wasted years, state capture and incompetence of officials exercising oversight on State Owned Enterprises and public institutions. While this narrative cannot be entirely dismissed, it nevertheless falls short; it does not offer any clear elaboration of the deeply rooted issues that hold our society back. 

It is indeed only the tip of the iceberg! The main and most entrenched systematic and structural challenge that continues to hold our society back is what I call “South Africa’s unholy trinity.” That is, the unholy alliance between BIG political parties, BIG Corporations and the BIG government. Each of these organs in this trilogy owes its allegiance to the other! The survival one depends on the other! 

In an article published on the Jacobin Magazine on the 27 January 2020 entitled: “Democratic Socialism is about democracy” , Shawn Gude gives a proper description of what happens in this unholy trinity. He writes: “The rich bankroll politicians, fund think tanks, and dispatch lobbyists. They influence which would-be politicians rise and fall, which ideas circulate widely, and what kinds of policies elected officials prioritize.”

Put slightly differently, the BIG party requires funding from wealthy business people who own BIG corporations to contest for political office. Once in government, the BIG party must enact legislations and prioritize policies that favor the BIG corporations! Let us use a recent example to demonstrate this point and to concretize the bold claim made. The Public Protector revealed in the post Africa Nation Congress (SA’s governing party)’s 54th national elective conference that the current head of state government president Cyril Ramaphosa used close to half a billion Rands in his presidential campaign popularly known as the CR17 campaign.

This amount was later confirmed by credible media reports to be R1 billion. This amount, we are told was raised through donations and the donors include among other business people and owners of BIG corporations:

– Nicky Oppenheimer with a R10 million donation
– Raymond Ackerman – R1 million and
– An anonymous donor with a R120 million (the biggest donation to the campaign)

The question we should be asking ourselves is: what favors does the president owe to these people and what policies is he expected to prioritize while in government? Or maybe the donations were handed out on a silver platter? That is most unlikely!

Back to the subject matter: the BIG government in South Africa controls almost every aspect of the peopleʼs lives mainly through its policy and legislative authority. It determines which health care services people should use (remember the NHI Bill) , which institutions of higher learning people can attend, who can open bank and insurance companies, where entrepreneurs can open their businesses etc.

Take for example the license requirements to be complied with when one wants to open a mutual or private bank. According to the Prudential Authority document published on the South African Reserve Bank website: “Applicants proposing to operate as banks or subsidiaries/branches of foreign banks (hereinafter collectively referred to as banks) must have a minimum capital of R250 million. Applicants proposing to operate as mutual banks must have a minimum capital of R10 million.”

One may be prompted to retort that “but that serves to make the banking sector a much credible and safer environment”. While that argument has some merits, it nevertheless falls on its head once we start to consider the fact that, that requirement and many other requirements on opening and operating a bank, makes the banking sector an exclusive preserve of BIG Corporations like the Goldman Sachs with the necessary human resource (like lawyers) and strong financial muscles to comply with the leisure requirements.

It limits what pro-capitalists call free competition. Free competition exists but it is only limited to the BIG corporations at the exclusion of all others. The BIG government in the final analysis works to the detriment of those it purports to serve – ordinary electorates and in favor of BIG Corporations which ensures its political success!

It is very deplorable that there are at least 10 million unemployed South Africans who continue to look up to the government to attract investments and therefore create more jobs. In reality, the BIG government will not create any secured decent jobs – it is a conflicted and compromised government riding on two horses going into opposite directions. It owes a lot favor to ordinary people and more so to the BIG corporations! It also owes a lot of favors to the BIG party that deployed it into government. “


Lehumo Sejaphala is the Founder and Editor-in-chief of the Voiceless (www.thevoiceless.co.za), a blogger (lehumosejaphala.wordpress.com), independent political analyst and final year Law student at University of the Witwatersrand.