Organised business marched with Cosatu against state capture this week, but the CEO of Business Leadership South Africa, Bonang Mohale, says a crucial part of the war against state capture will be ensuring the integrity of the 2019 elections.

“Remember, elections are stolen. They were bought in Polokwane, they were bought in Mangaung, they were bought in the ANC Women’s League elections.”

What happened in KwaZulu-Natal, where the courts recently nullified the results of ANC provincial elections, is a clear warning, he says.

“But these are not the only elections that have been challenged in court. If recent history is anything to go by, the same process and culture is going to be a ploy in the 2019 elections.”

Business will be watching the Independent Electoral Commission very carefully, and helping it wherever possible.

The IEC has not been captured “yet”, he says. Its capture “is a huge danger and [would be] a massive threat to our democracy”. The IEC chairman, Vuma Mashinini, is a former close associate of President Jacob Zuma, who appointed him in 2014.

“This president has been obsessed with staying out of jail,” says Mohale.

“Every appointment, every move – whether policing, prosecutorial services, the judiciary – is motivated by one thing only: the fear of going to prison.”

He says business has “a vital role to play” in ensuring that the independence of the IEC is not compromised.

“As business we are concerned right now about two things: the new CEO of the IEC is about to be appointed, and the new software is about to go out on RFP [request for proposal]. We want to make sure that neither of those is captured or capturable.

“Business has a critical and necessary role to play in helping the IEC ensure cybersecurity,” he says.

Apart from the opportunities for corruption in the procurement of expensive election software, “we want to make sure that Russia will be unable to hack into that new software and therefore influence the outcome of the elections”.

He says given the stakes involved and Zuma’s capacity to influence election results, this is a credible threat.

“We don’t trust anything that this [Zuma] administration has been doing in the last eight years.”

Given what happened in the US presidential elections, which Russia influenced by hacking into the Democratic Party IT system, “I think all of us need to be concerned”.

An administration that “doesn’t give a damn about taking our sovereignty and giving it to an immigrant Indian family” is capable of anything.

He refers to the report this year by the South African Council of Churches and a team of academics, which exposed the extent to which the state had been captured in a “silent coup”.

What motive would the Russians have to interfere in South Africa’s elections?

“The same motive they have for wanting to sell us a nuclear deal that we don’t need and that we cannot afford,” says Mohale.

The Russians know that the continuation of Zuma’s family or allies in power might be critical to their chances of scoring untold billions in nuclear deals with South Africa, he says. “In the Integrated Resource Plan, nuclear is low down in our energy mix. It is not needed and not affordable. In the National Development Plan 2030, the least viable energy option is nuclear.

“But the president, Zuma, went to meet Vladimir Putin. And when he came back he cleaned out the cabinet to enable the procurement of nuclear.

“Minister of finance Nhlanhla Nene was fired because he refused to sign the nuclear deal. Minister Pravin Gordhan is out of office today because he refused to sign the nuclear deal.

“[Energy] minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson is out of the cabinet today because she refused to sign the nuclear deal.

“So you can see the determination of this president to give us a nuclear deal whether we like it or not or can afford it or not.”

Which is the reason Mohale believes the threat of Russian interference in South Africa’s elections in order to secure a financially beneficial outcome for Zuma and Putin is no mere figment of his imagination.

This is why business needs to watch the IEC every bit as carefully as it intends watching the Public Investment Corporation, and support it wherever possible.

Ensuring a strong, well-resourced IEC is its second priority after joining the fight against state capture, which he believes has now reached a kind of endgame.

“The ultimate prize is the capture of the National Treasury and the PIC.”

He says the PIC – which, as he points out, is chaired by minister Malusi Gigaba’s deputy at the National Treasury, Sfiso Buthelezi, and has R1.9-trillion of government employees’ money – is “the biggest prize on the continent. That’s why it must be captured.”

Ever since Zuma came to power, he says, “the intent was always ultimately and brazenly to go to the National Treasury and capture the National Treasury”.

He says the growing public outcry against the possible abuse of PIC funds, fuelled most recently by CEO Dan Matjila’s revelations in Business Times, is a cause for hope.

“Since the Zuma administration came to power it has been doing whatever it wanted with absolute impunity.

“Now they know that they’re being watched with a hawk’s eye.”

Hence the “bizarre” press conference this week and “furious denials”.

“In the past they would have just gone ahead without caring who says what. But now they know that business is watching National Treasury, business is watching the new minister of finance, business is watching every single move at National Treasury and in the PIC.”

Mohale says that after wrongly assuming “we’d be all right” after the advent of democracy, business is going back to the days of the United Democratic Front when it, labour and civil society joined forces to defeat apartheid.

“Today, the enemy is state capture, and we will fight it exactly the same way,” he says.

Published in Sunday Times / Business Live (01 October 2017)