Pressure mounts on Zuma
Court tells parliament to bring in rules to pave way for impeachment
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.
Political peril … the ANC has replaced Jacob Zuma as party leader