Pres­sure mounts on Zuma

Court tells par­lia­ment to bring in rules to pave way for im­peach­ment

The Guardian Weekly - - International news - Ruth Ma­clean

South Africa’s high­est court has ruled that par­lia­ment failed to hold pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma to ac­count in a scan­dal over state-funded up­grades to his coun­try res­i­dence, fu­elling op­po­si­tion calls for him to be im­peached.

The con­sti­tu­tional court or­dered the na­tional as­sem­bly to make rules that al­low the pres­i­dent to be im­peached, adding to Zuma’s dif­fi­cul­ties after he was re­placed by Cyril Ramaphosa as leader of the rul­ing African Na­tional Congress.

Frus­trated by set­backs in the na­tional as­sem­bly, the left­wing Eco­nomic Free­dom Fight­ers and other small op­po­si­tion par­ties went to court as part of a cam­paign to im­peach Zuma be­fore a gen­eral elec­tion in 2019. In 2016, the court found that Zuma had vi­o­lated the con­sti­tu­tion when he re­fused to pay back pub­lic money spent on mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar up­grades to his prop­erty at Nkandla, in his home prov­ince of KwaZulu-Na­tal.

Im­prove­ments to the home­stead cost $15m and in­cluded a swim­ming pool, which the for­mer po­lice min­is­ter Nkosi­nathi Nh­leko claimed was a “fire pool” for ex­tin­guish­ing fires, an am­phithe­atre, which Nh­leko said could serve as an emer­gency as­sem­bly point, as well as a chicken run and cattle en­clo­sure.

The court cited sec­tion 89 of South Africa’s con­sti­tu­tion, which al­lows for the pres­i­dent to be re­moved for se­ri­ous misconduct, or vi­o­la­tion of the con­sti­tu­tion or law, if two-thirds of the mem­bers of the na­tional as­sem­bly are in agree­ment.

“We con­clude that the as­sem­bly did not hold the pres­i­dent to ac­count … The as­sem­bly must put in place a mech­a­nism that could be used for the re­moval of the pres­i­dent from of­fice,” judge Chris Jafta said, hand­ing down the judg­ment, which was sup­ported by a ma­jor­ity of the court.

“Prop­erly in­ter­preted, sec­tion 89 im­plic­itly im­poses an obli­ga­tion on the as­sem­bly to make rules spe­cially tai­lored for the re­moval of the pres­i­dent from of­fice. By omit­ting to in­clude such rules, the as­sem­bly has failed to ful­fil this obli­ga­tion.”

De­spite a damn­ing 2014 re­port into the up­grades by the then pub­lic pro­tec­tor, Thuli Madon­sela, Zuma man­aged to avoid pay­ing any­thing un­til 2016, when he re­funded a small por­tion of the cash spent on Nkandla.

Op­po­si­tion par­ties blamed Baleka Mbete, the speaker of the na­tional as­sem­bly, for par­lia­ment’s fail­ures on Nkandla. Mbete was accused of per­son­ally try­ing to pro­tect Zuma over the up­grades after she said: “In the African tra­di­tion, you don’t in­ter­fere with a man’s kraal [cattle en­clo­sure].”

The court’s chief jus­tice, Mo­go­eng Mo­go­eng, dis­agreed with his col­leagues over the rul­ing, but it was not enough to change it. After Mo­go­eng passed him a note, Jafta said: “The chief jus­tice char­ac­terises the ma­jor­ity judge­ment as a text­book case of ju­di­cial over­reach, a con­sti­tu­tion­ally im­per­mis­si­ble in­tru­sion by the ju­di­ciary into the exclusive do­main of par­lia­ment.”

Al­though Zuma has sur­vived six mo­tions of no con­fi­dence, in­clud­ing one in­volv­ing a se­cret bal­lot, his power was di­min­ished when the ANC chose Ramaphosa as its new leader, rather than Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the pres­i­dent’s ex-wife and his cho­sen suc­ces­sor. It was well known that Nel­son Man­dela wanted Ramaphosa, a pow­er­ful union leader, to suc­ceed him, but when Thabo Mbeki be­came pres­i­dent in 1999 Ramaphosa with­drew from po­lit­i­cal life.

Getty

Po­lit­i­cal peril … the ANC has re­placed Ja­cob Zuma as party leader

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