Thapelo Lekabe

By Thapelo Lekabe

Senior Digital Journalist

State capture: Change laws so voters can elect their president directly, says Zondo

The chief justice says presidential elections will not necessarily prevent state capture and corruption in the future.

After public hearings, which saw more than 330 witnesses give evidence into how the state was allegedly captured by former president Jacob Zuma and the Guptas, Chief Justice Raymond Zondo has recommended that South Africa’s electoral laws be changed to allow for the direct election of the president.

The recommendation is contained in the fifth and final installment of the state capture commission’s report that was handed to President Cyril Ramaphosa on Wednesday evening at the Union Buildings, Pretoria.

In the report, Zondo stated that while the direct election of the president would not be adequate to prevent state capture in the future – or even rid the country of corruption – “serious consideration” should be given to the recommendation for citizens to directly elect their president, instead of voting for political parties.

The recommendation was previously made by the electoral task team of January 2003, which was chaired by Dr Frederick van Zyl Slabbert.

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In making the call for electoral reforms, Zond cited the example of former CEO of the Government Communications and Information Systems (GCIS) Themba Maseko, whose dismissal in 2010 resulted in government communications enabling instances of state capture.

The chief justice also referred to Zuma’s sacking of former finance minister Pravin Gordhan in 2017, who was replaced by Malusi Gigaba.

“After this commission heard the kind of evidence it heard over a period of about four years, including the evidence played by president Zuma in helping the Guptas loot taxpayers’ money in the way they did together with their associates, we are bound to ask the question: how did this country end up having as president someone who would act the way president Zuma acted?

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“Someone that could remove as good a public servant as Mr Themba Maseko from his position just so that he could put someone else into that position who would co-operate with the Guptas and give them business.

“A president who would fire [the] minister of finance just because his friends wanted someone else in that position who would co-operate with his friends and help them to capture the country; National Treasury.”

Party vs individuals

Zondo said South Africa got Zuma as president in 2009 because he was able to ascend to the position of ANC president. He said it was likely that the majority of voters elected the governing party and not Zuma.

“It may well be that, despite having more than 700 charges pending against him, he would have won the majority of voters if it was a presidential election where the voters voted for the president directly.

“However, there may have been voters who voted for the ANC but who would never have voted for Mr Zuma as president if they had an opportunity not to vote for Mr Zuma and still vote for the ANC.”

Zondo added that the proposal for presidential elections was aimed at ensuring that anyone who is elected to the Presidency does so on the basis of their own popularity with the people, not because voters voted for a particular party.

“Of course, if this recommendation is accepted and necessary constitutional and legislative changes are made and it is implemented, that will not necessarily give the people of this country any guarantee that somebody similar to Mr Jacob Zuma or even worse than Mr Jacob Zuma will ever be elected president of the country,” he said.

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