Former presidents Thabo Mbek and President Jacob Zuma embrace at the 52nd ANC conference in Polokwane in December 2007. Picture: Jerome Delay / AP

Johannesburg - The manipulation of the criminal justice system began under the tenure of former president Thabo Mbeki, and was captured aggressively during former president Jacob Zuma’s tenure, a report by the Institute for Security Studies and Corruption Watch said.

The report, titled State capture and the political manipulation of criminal justice agencies, was submitted to the Zondo Commission into State Capture in April this year and has been made public for the first time today.

The report said organised crime flourished during Zuma’s tenure, but it also said it was evident under Mbeki with manipulation to the criminal justice apparatus.

The report asserts there was interference at the criminal justice agencies - including the Hawks, the NPA, SAPS and crime intelligence - which enabled manipulation of the agencies for political and personal gain.

This enabled state capture and ensured impunity for Zuma and politically-connected business allies, who formed part of his alleged patronage networks, the report said.

“This submission is focused on the criminal justice agencies. However there are clearly aspects of our political culture that serve as major risk factors for manipulation of criminal justice agencies,” the report states.

The report found that manipulation started under Mbeki’s reign, but was more aggressive under Zuma. The submission said the former presidents had not always acted “in a manner consistent with the principles of equality before the law and the rule of law that are embedded in the constitution”.

“Nevertheless, while there is evidence of inconsistencies in this regard during the Mbeki era, as this submission highlights, during the Zuma era manipulation of criminal justice agencies was practised consistently and aggressively and reached a level where the interests of the country in addressing crime and corruption were entirely subordinated to the interests of Zuma, in enjoying impunity, and of the ruling faction of the ANC, in retaining power,” it read.

“During the presidency of Thabo Mbeki it is possible that the law was applied selectively. Accusations about criminal justice agencies being used to target political opponents of the president were used to mobilise against, and ultimately unseat him.

“During the Zuma era there was generalised impunity for the political class. However this was also not sufficient to secure Zuma’s hold on power as the scale of corruption, and above all the phenomenon of state capture, led eventually to Zuma’s political demise,” the report said.

The report said political use of the criminal justice agencies had led to political instability. It said for corruption to be addressed decisively, it was necessary for justice agencies to be capacitated.

“Unless these bodies are demonstrably and identifiably independent, their efforts to address corruption will continuously be undermined by the suspicion, and accusations, that they are applying the law selectively for ulterior motives.

“The ability of South Africa’s criminal justice agencies to consistently demonstrate that they are acting impartially and independently will be one of their greatest safeguards against those who seek to discredit and undermine them,” the report said.

The report also calls on political parties to block individuals who faced serious allegations from ascending to powerful positions.

“The example of Jacob Zuma’s ascendency to power shows that there is a high risk that people who are facing serious and well-founded allegations of wrongdoing, can be elected to positions of power, and as a result will use their positions to subvert the operation of the law against them with negative consequences for the rule of law.

“Though not all accusations made against politicians can necessarily be taken seriously, political parties should not apply the blanket legal standard of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ approach to questions of eligibility for political office.

“Political parties should change their codes of conduct or other internal policies to provide that where office bearers or candidates are facing well founded questions about their integrity (e.g. court findings or other hard evidence such as video or voice recordings of dishonesty), such people should be regarded as unsuitable for political office until they can formally clear their names through an independent hearing,” the report stated.

The ISS and Corruption Watch have recommended new legislation to ensure greater transparency around the relationship between the executive and the senior leadership of criminal justice agencies.

They are also calling for all instructions to be done in writing and they be made public.

“New mechanisms are required to ensure candidates for senior criminal justice positions are suitably qualified. Government should provide an annual consolidated report on all investigations and prosecutions of corruption by officials in criminal justice agencies, and associated disciplinary measures,” they said.