Could the Nkandla case afterglow fade?

CityPress - - Voices - Charl du Plessis voices@ city­press. co. za

There are two rea­sons I will al­ways re­mem­ber the press con­fer­ence where Po­lice Min­is­ter Nathi Nh­leko un­veiled his far­ci­cal Nkandla re­port. The first was the ob­vi­ous and alarm­ing spec­ta­cle of see­ing a per­son who was sweat­ing so pro­fusely, it ap­peared to be rain­ing out of his face.

The se­cond was for the un­govern­abil­ity of a ques­tion asked by a col­league: “Do you ac­tu­ally think South Africans are stupid enough to be­lieve this re­port?”

Nh­leko, sweat pour­ing down his brow, bum­bled through an an­swer. But that ques­tion was re­ally an­swered in the Con­sti­tu­tional Court on Tues­day, with in­ter­est. This week’s an­swer was a re­sound­ing no – and to cap it all, not even Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma, who com­mis­sioned the re­port, is now will­ing to as­so­ciate him­self with it.

In­deed, it was only the care­fully crafted climb­down by Jeremy Gauntlett SC on be­half of Zuma that pre­vented what could have been a fairly nasty spec­ta­cle for the pres­i­dent. Al­though there will be a sig­nif­i­cant bill at some point, dear tax­payer, we should re­joice. We fi­nally seem to be get­ting some value for money on this front.

Out in the cold, though, were Zuma’s co-re­spon­dents, Nh­leko and Baleka Mbete, the Speaker of the Na­tional As­sem­bly. Some hard ques­tions need to be asked, but that is a mat­ter for an­other day.

It was great to see the court at work dur­ing a live TV broad­cast and, judg­ing by Twit­ter, peo­ple seemed im­pressed with the pro­ceed­ings – par­tic­u­larly so when par­ties who seem to have been will­ing to spare no ab­sur­dity in their quest to de­fend the pres­i­dent were brought up short.

While it re­mains to be seen how the court pro­nounces on the mat­ter – and try­ing to pre­dict how a court will rule is a mug’s game – it seems cer­tain that, given the pres­i­dent’s con­ces­sions, the court will af­firm Pub­lic Pro­tec­tor Thuli Madon­sela’s pow­ers.

Trolls and party hacks fell silent as the pub­lic basked in a happy con­sti­tu­tional afterglow.

But even as we re­joice at the way we per­ceive things to have gone, we would do well not to take the Con­sti­tu­tional Court for granted.

Pres­i­dent Zuma will in the near fu­ture be re­quired to ap­point two more judges to the Bench. Jus­tice Jo­hann van der Westhuizen is leav­ing soon and, later this year, an­other va­cancy will open up when Dik­gang Moseneke, deputy chief jus­tice, re­tires. It will be sad to see Moseneke go. It is hard to imag­ine any­one who bet­ter per­son­i­fies ju­di­cial ex­cel­lence and con­sti­tu­tion­al­ism in South Africa. Who will the new judges be? In the case of the Con­sti­tu­tional Court, jus­tices are ap­pointed from a short list sent to the pres­i­dent by the Ju­di­cial Ser­vice Com­mis­sion ( JSC).

The court calls for nom­i­na­tions and then in­ter­views are con­ducted be­fore the JSC draws up the short list that will go to the pres­i­dent.

A lot more hype and pub­lic aware­ness needs to ac­com­pany th­ese pro­ceed­ings when they hap­pen.

The aptly named Judges Mat­ter coali­tion is a great ini­tia­tive that tries to do just that and de­serves sup­port – find the ini­tia­tive on Twit­ter.

It would also help if the me­dia could in­vest more time and re­sources into get­ting to grips with not just the JSC’s in­ter­view pro­ceed­ings (at which point the horse has largely bolted as far as pub­lic par­tic­i­pa­tion goes), but also with rais­ing aware­ness around the nom­i­na­tion process and the can­di­dates.

Af­ter this year’s va­can­cies are filled, it could well be the last time a spot on the Bench opens up for quite a while.

If the Nkandla saga teaches us any­thing, it’s that the peo­ple who oc­cupy in­sti­tu­tions mat­ter. Peo­ple of prin­ci­ple, such as Madon­sela, will build ef­fec­tive demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions we can be proud of. Spine­less syco­phants, who have only ever known a “lurk­ing flir­ta­tion” (as Gauntlett puts it) with in­tegrity, will do the op­po­site.

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