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Small Parties Risk Big Money to Compete in S. Africa Elections

They don't have the money or the influence of the African National Congress, but a number of small parties in South Africa are hoping to have impact on policy by winning a few seats in parliament in the May 7th elections. In the final stretch, these parties are betting all their funding on the race.

It's a yellow sea of people filling the 95,000 seats in Johannesburg's biggest stadium. Nelson Mandela's party, the ruling ANC, bused in supporters from all across the country - and outfitted them with hats and banners for one of the final rallies.

Twenty-nine parties are contesting seats in the national parliament and even more are trying their luck in the provincial races. Some parties are competing for the first time, and with limited financial resources.

It's a sunny Sunday and Tania Naude is busy making cardboard posters on her terrace for the party she is supporting, Ubuntu. She got the material only a few days ago and it is now a race against the time to get the word out by voting day.

"We will go and stand at the traffic light there at the intersection, and then hand out pamphlets to people and obviously have posters up on the pole as well<' said Naude.

The party was created last year by Michael Tellinger and advocates restructuring the entire banking system and abolishing money.

"We've been using social media and social networking to get the word out. The alternative media seems to becoming the voice of the people on the ground. Because we certainly not getting it from mainstream media," said Tellinger.

The campaign cost the party about a million rand or $95,000.

Tellinger says most of the money came from foreign donors and was spent on application fees: $20,000 to run in national elections and $4,300 for provincial entries.

If the party manages to win a seat, its campaign costs are reimbursed. If not, the money is lost.

The independent electoral commission justifies these costs by saying that if a party can't raise that amount of money, then it probably can't raise votes as well.

The Minority Front has been around for two decades, but this year will compete for the first time in Gauteng Province - which includes Johannesburg and Pretoria.

The party currently holds a few provincial seats, and one seat in the national assembly.

Kishore Badal, one of the Minority Front candidates in Gauteng, says the fees are unfair because the parties don't get the same treatment and the same exposure, while still paying the same amount.

"The largest parties, they have lots of funding, from within the country and outside. We don't have these advantages. And considering the fact that we all have to pay the same registration for the new elections, yes, it's totally unfair," said Badal.

Last month, four small political parties failed to pay the election deposit and were excluded from the national ballot.