South Africa’s president, its provincial premiers and its mayors should be voted in directly by the electorate and not appointed by party hierarchy, Congress of the People (Cope) chair Terror Lekota said on Sunday in Durban.

Lekota, speaking at a meeting attended by about 50 people in Durban’s Chatsworth area said: “We want to amend the electoral system in such a way that the power is put in the hands of the people.

“Today people vote for the party. Fifteen years down the line one can see the weakness of the party.

“We are saying, amend the electoral system so people can say who among us is trust worthy,” he said, adding that at the moment the “chommies are chosen behind the (back of the) community”.

“In this system, you put friends there (in power).”

He said that while policies of the party would be thrashed out when the party is formally launched in Bloemfontein on December 16, amending the electoral system was second to the party’s main principle of adherence to the country’s constitution.

Cope would also not agree to the country’s security institutions being aligned with any political party in any way.

“It is wrong to have security forces that are politically allied. We will never allow the SANDF to be politically allied.

“How will the population feel with a defence force that is politically allied?.

“If we get a mandate, we will pass legislation to say police, intelligence and defence are not to be politically allied. Their job is to uphold the constitution,” he said.

Referring to the neutrality of the police, he questioned why “not a single African National Congress member had been arrested” by police following the disruption to several meetings by Cope, including the latest disruption in Durban’s Verulam area on Thursday.

More than 200 people – most of whom were wearing T-shirts emblazoned with ANC president Jacob Zuma’s picture and brandishing Zuma banners – burst into the hall and toyi-toyied, preventing the meeting, which Lekota was due to speak at, from getting off the ground.

ANC provincial secretary general Senzo Mchunu said on Friday that Lekota should focus on policies and stop aggravating ordinary party members by “urinating” on the ANC.

Lekota said that to date, despite ANC leadership promises that they would discipline unruly members, he had not yet heard of one ANC cadre being disciplined for disrupting Cope meetings.

“If political parties cannot criticise, then what kind of political debate are we having?”

He warned that South Africans were living in fear and that the ANC did not “trample cope”, but the ordinary voters.

“You cannot say that we’ll be in power until Jesus Christ comes. That kind of behaviour is the beginning of a dictatorship.”

He added that threats of being prepared to kill for a leader were not democratic.

“No political party owns the voters. I discovered something on Thursday. There is a grave fear. People are terrified. There’s a deep, deep fear.”

Lekota likened the fear to that experienced by ANC supporters during the apartheid era.

Shortly after Lekota left the Bayview Community Hall, a group of about 40 people wearing T-shirts emblazoned with Zuma’s picture, arrived and blockaded the road after they had been ordered by police from the hall grounds.

Police had to intervene to ensure that local Cope organiser Phillip Mhlongo could leave after chanting ANC supporters surrounded his car.

The meeting had originally been called to take place at a school, but according to the organisers the venue was changed at the last moment for security reasons.

Local ANC councillor Visven Reddy was seen driving past the hall several times, before the cars and bakkies arrived carrying the ANC supporters.