Crucial court ruling on JZ

The Justice Ministry has paid over R24 million to cover former President Jacob Zuma’s legal costs since,Picture: Gallo Images

Today’s ruling by the Constitutional Court on whether Parliament should be compelled to initiate impeachment proceedings against President Jacob Zuma may help newly elected ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa’s and his party to deal with the two centres of power conundrum.

The clamour for Zuma’s removal has grown since Ramaphosa’s election at the ANC’s 54th national conference recently, with the new ANC boss under pressure to act against the president. On the other hand Zuma continues to enjoy support by elements in his party who are unlikely to take kindly to any action against their leader.

The Constitutional Court reserved judgment on the matter in September after opposition parties submitted an application calling on the court to force Parliament’s hand in the wake of a ruling that Zuma failed to uphold the Constitution for not abiding by the public protector’s finding that he repay some of the public money spent on his sprawling rural home.

Eric Mabuza, the instructing attorney for opposition parties EFF, UDM and Cope, said they were optimistic the ConCourt would rule in their favour. Mabuza said the court would have to rule firstly on whether the conduct of the president was impeachable.

“The other thing will be to instruct Parliament to set up an impeachment process where the president will be given an opportunity to answer the allegations against him and once the impeachment process concludes they will either find him guilty or not. If they find him guilty Parliament will then have to vote on it,” he said.

Some analysts believe the ConCourt would be loath to dictate to Parliament on the matter. Political analyst Prof Sipho Seepe warned that the ConCourt should not undermine the Constitution.

“I do not understand why the opposition parties approached the ConCourt as the National Assembly still holds the power (on) whether Zuma would be impeached,” Seepe said.

The case brought by the EFF is far from an open and shut case.

The ConCourt has already ruled that Zuma failed to uphold and defend the Constitution and his oath of office by refusing to comply with former public protector Thuli Madonsela’s remedial action.

The ConCourt also ruled on various courses of action for Zuma including personally paying back his portion of the upgrades that did not relate to security improvements, admonishing the ministers involved and awarding costs.

In another judgment, however, the ConCourt left it up to Parliament and, more particularly the speaker, to decide whether a vote in Parliament should be by secret ballot.

In a climate where judges have been accused of judicial overreach, the questioning by chief justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, among others, during the hearing in September suggests that the question of the separation of powers was uppermost in their minds.

The EFF had argued that Mbete failed to put in place mechanisms to hold Zuma accountable. It argued that she did not convene a committee or other independent body to probe the president’s behaviour in violation of the Constitution.

Justice Mogoeng led the questioning of the counsel for the EFF and others expressing “disquiet” on making decisions for Parliament, asking whether the opposition parties had explored all possible avenues before going to court and whether their whole case, based on the speaker’s so-called inaction, was misplaced because it was the National Assembly as a whole that held the executive to account and not just Baleka Mbete.