It is apparent that unless something dramaticwere to happen, such as the electorate rejecting the ANC in 2014, or the ANCrecalling him, Jacob Zuma is poised to become President of South Africa until2019.
The question we should pose is not what wecan expect from another term of Zuma’s rule. It is what lessons we should takebeyond his stay in the presidency.
We know from experience that the next five tosix years are predictable. They will be full of empty promises, drama and moreembarrassing scandals.
We have had a chance in the last four to fiveyears, to experience everything that is not presidential. We have cringed,laughed and exclaimed.
But we would, as a nation, be foolish if wedo not learn anything out of the nothingness of Zuma’s presidency and hisconduct in office. Essentially, we would have proven ourselves to be a nationincapable of learning from its mistakes.
People sometimes find goodness inuselessness. The goodness of the uselessnessof the status quo is that it helps us imagine the ideal. It helps us compareour current realities with what we can aspire to become.
The future is important; and we would be goodto ourselves and our children if we begin to imagine and frame the future beyondZuma and perhaps beyond the ANC.
Such exercise must begin with our political system.
Many people blame the ANC for imposing upon thenation a person of Zuma’s calibre; and they are indeed correct. However, it isin the main our political system that has bequeathed us of a flawed man we nowcall our president.
Over and above Zuma being exposed, he hasactually exposed the weaknesses of our country’s Constitution.
Of all the things our Constitution is known to be good for, the criteria for election ofthe President is not one of them.
Yet the position of a President is thehighest office in the land. The weight of this position is expressed in the magnitudeof powers and functions that are conferred to it. “The Executive Authority ofthe Republic is vested in the President” – says our Constitution.
However, membership to the National Assemblyis all that is required for one to become a President.
What is even more worrying is that membershipto National Assembly is also not subject to a rigorous requirement or scrutiny.According to section 47 of the Constitution,“Every citizen who is qualified to vote for the National Assembly is eligibleto be a member of National Assembly, …”
This means that any uneducated, stupid, irrational,immoral and very old person can become a president in South Africa.
Good and sound as they may appear to be, theprohibitions provided for in the Constitution– such as public servants, permanent delegatesto the National Council of Provinces, members of provincial legislature andmunicipal councils, insolvents, insane people and convicts – do not necessarilyconstitute a robust criteria for election to the highest office. They do nothelp us sift wheat from chaff. If they were, they would have spared us theembarrassment we experienced over the last five years.
Part A of schedule 3 of the Constitution only clarifies theprocedure for election of a president, but not the criteria for eligibilityinto the high office. If not attended, this lacuna will make it possible in thefuture for our country to go through the same unfortunate experience of beingled by people with no modicum of integrity.
It is not enough for one to be eligible tovote in order for that person to qualify to sit in the high office. Thechallenges confronting our nation demands from us a dynamic leadershipempowered with the education, knowledge, intellect to overcome them. We need a moralleadership to look up to and to steer our country away from social decadencethat is injuring our nationhood.
While it is true that Zuma’s ascendance tothe high office was a legal and lawful process; it was at the same time facilitatedby the naivety of the founders of our democracy. The drafters of our Constitution put too much faith in the abilityof political parties to act in the interest of the nation and to selectcredible people for positions of leadership in government. They underestimatedthe capacity of human beings to be fallible. They were very wrong!
We have now learnt a big lesson; charisma isnot enough a requirement for leadership. We have learnt that it is not enough fora leader to be a man of people; it is important for the man of people to becapable.
The question is: how do we prevent ourdemocracy from being hijacked again by unscrupulous, uneducated and immoral peoplein the future?
The common refrain to this question is thecall for electoral reform; and unfortunately it often misses the point.Electoral reform alone without clear eligibility criteria cannot guarantee uscredible leadership.
We must, as citizens engage in a nation-widedialogue about the attributes we would like to see in our future presidents. Thisis a dialogue we should have as we imagine the future beyond 2019.
We must begin by tightening the requirements forthe position of president and this must culminate in the amendment of the Constitution.
Six requirements are crucial: education, workexperience, financial track record, security risk, propensity to truth andethical behaviour.
The education requirement must prescribe a universitydegree as a bare minimum. No honorary degrees must be allowed.
We know that a normal university degree sharpenscritical and analytical skills; it wets the appetite for reading; and hones writingskills. These skills are crucial for anyone whose job is to read volumes ofgovernment documents and sometimes write his own speeches. The requirement fora university degree will also send a good message to society to valueeducation.
The presidential hopefuls must have workexperience. They must have either worked as an employee or entrepreneur for aperiod not less than five years. How can you be a president of a country – expectedto coordinate the work of government – when you have no concrete experience of theconcept of work?
The president’s financial dealings must bebeyond reproach. Financial security check and life style audits must beconducted to ensure that no one with blood money seats on the high chair. Is itnot too risky to expect someone who fails to manage his own budget to presideover trillion of Rand worth of government budgets?
The security checks must also be conducted toensure that the presidential hopefuls are not entangled in relationships –friend or love affairs – that may compromise state security. In this way, Guptagateswill be the things of the past. Why do we require a security clearance for seniorgovernment officials and leave number one unchecked?
The security reports should be made public andmust not be declared national key points or be classified as top secret. He whowants to be president is a man with no skeletons in the closet; he has nothingto hide!
Presidential candidates must show a propensityto tell the truth. As a nation we deserve to know if the men and women we areto call our president can be trusted. Mechanisms can be found to measure this,including the use of lie detectors.
We do not need to change of electoral systembefore we implement all these. These requirements can work in the existingsystem and will at best reengineer the conduct of political parties in choosingtheir own leaders.
Parties will be careful in their choice ofleadership and will avoid the risk of fielding candidates who may not meet theminimum requirements.
How then should this be implemented?
There are two options. The first would be toextend the mandate of the Electoral Commission (IEC) to include all theseresponsibilities. In this regard, only additional funding and human resourcewould be required. The independence of the IEC will also boost the credibilityof the process.
The second option is to establish a dedicatedcommission, comprised of independent and respectable people in society.
Whichever option we choose, we will need politicalwill from all parties to make this happen. Ultimately, the amendments to the Constitution will be processed byparliament.
However, failure to make these changes willbe great injustice to posterity. Essentially, we would have learned nothingfrom Jacob Zuma’s presidency!
Malada is a SeniorResearch Fellow at the Centre for Politics and Research. He is also a membersof the Midrand Group.