Memo to Ms Gil Marcus, Chairperson of Absa Board regarding Absa's democracy support programme from Bantu Holomisa, MP - UDM President (5 March 2009)

We are in receipt of a letter from Riah Phiyega (Group Executive: Group Public Affairs), dated 24 February 2009 - although we believe that she has since left the company. For convenience sake we also copy this letter to CEO Maria Ramos as well as Happy Ntshingila: Group Executive: Corporate Communication.

We are thankful for previous support that ABSA has given to the UDM and other political parties.

The UDM and other political parties have consistently called for the levelling of the playing field in South African politics when it comes to party funding. Our contention that a healthy multi-party democracy requires properly and transparently funded political parties is now commonly accepted.

Indeed just prior to the 2004 elections we noted a paradigm shift among big companies, including ABSA, who declared publicly their donations to political parties during the election campaigns, and who made a point of donating to various parties.

Yet when one reads the ABSA letter referred to above, you are in essence saying that you will only provide funding to political parties after the elections. There has been a legitimate expectation that ABSA would fund political parties before the elections along the format used in 2004, in order for us to be able to conduct the expensive work of campaigning. At the risk of stating the obvious: proper campaigns enable the voters to make informed electoral choices and is absolutely critical for a healthy multi-party democracy.

One is puzzled about this change of policy. It would be tragic for multi-party democracy if you arrived at this stance as a result of the recent publicity stunt of the ANC, who created a fracas and queried ABSA's supposed support for COPE. Why must all the opposition parties be punished because of the infighting in the ruling party and its conflict with its defectors?

The situation is aggravated by the fact that the top echelon of ABSA seem to include many people with connections to the ruling party.

The implication is that parties without access to massive state funding, such as the ruling party, will be penalised during this election campaign; thus instead of ABSA's stated goal of supporting multi-party democracy, this would have the effect of encouraging one-party dominance.

The so-called 'transformation' of former white companies, by parachuting only people from the ruling party into the top leadership of these companies is actually killing multi-party democracy in this country, not promoting it.
To us it seems that decisions such as the one announced in your letter is laced with prejudice and designed to favour the ruling party.

If institutions like ABSA, where the UDM has been a client since its founding, behave in this way, who should we turn to for support, bearing in mind that this funding would go directly towards the voters and in support of multi-party democracy?

The UDM calls upon the Board of ABSA to review this decision. If this decision isn't reviewed it will go down in history as an attempt at liquidating the opposition and destroying multi-party democracy.

Thanking you for your kind cooperation.

Bantu Holomisa, MP

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