South Africa’s Constitutional Court on Tuesday reserved judgment on whether Parliament should institute impeachment proceedings against President Jacob Zuma.
Opposition party, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), backed by the United Democratic movement (UDM) and Congress of the People (COPE), is seeking a declaratory order to direct Parliament to consider whether Zuma is impeachable following the court’s ruling that he had broken his oath of office and the country’s Constitution in terms of section 89 of the Constitution.
In March last year, the Constitutional Court ruled that Zuma had failed to “uphold, defend and respect the Constitution” when he did not adhere to the remedial actions called for by former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela after more than R200 million of public money was spent in upgrading his Nkandla homestead.
On Tuesday, Advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, for the EFF, said the party had written to Speaker Baleka Mbete three times and she refused to set up a fact-finding inquiry to be chaired by a judge called on by the EFF or a multi-party committee to probe Zuma’s conduct.
Advocate Ngoako Maenetje, for Mbete, argued that Parliament had taken necessary steps to hold Zuma accountable for his breach.
“As a lawyer for the National Assembly, we accept this is serious violation of the Constitution.
“The Speaker does not set up ad hoc committees. It is the responsibility of National Assembly. She doesn’t have powers to. Because [the] Speaker plays a referee role, it would be inconsistent for her to initiate the removal of the president,” Menetje said.
Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng corrected him saying: “It can’t be that [the] Speaker cannot initiate impeachment process”.
However, Maenetje argued that various steps were taken to hold Zuma to account for his violation of the Constitution after the Nkandla judgment, adding that the Constitution does not specify that impeachment is the only way to hold the president accountable.
EFF counsel, Ngcukaitobi said the EFF wanted a fact-finding inquiry which would allow Zuma to present his side and be cross examined though he struggled to convince Mogoeng why the matter had to be heard at the Constitutional Court in the first place since the court had pronounced on Zuma’s conduct.
Mogoeng emphasised that the court needed clarity on why it should intervene on Parliament’s alleged inability to hold Zuma to account while not overstepping separation of powers.
“Every arm of the State has a role to play. I want to make sure court does not take over Parliament’s responsibility,” Mogoeng said.
Advocate Dali Mpofu, for the UDM and COPE, argued that the Speaker of the National Assembly has a particular Constitutional duty to ensure accountability, not as Member of Parliament but as Speaker, adding that an impartial Speaker would look at all the mechanisms.
Mpofu said there was hierarchy of accountability measures in Parliament, starting at question and answer sessions and ending with impeachment.
He claimed that 27 previous question and answer sessions conducted by the National Assembly had been insufficient, as question and answer sittings differed from inquiry hearings.
“In an inquiry nobody is going to ask you to sit down or raise a point of order,” he said.
“Did the president violate the Constitution knowingly or did he get wrong advice? If the president’s violation was bona fide, then I would agree that it is not so serious. But if it was knowingly, then it is serious. Our prayer is the court should find that the National Assembly has failed to take all mechanisms to hold the president accountable,” Mpofu argued.
The opposition parties want Zuma brought before a “fact-finding inquiry” which would determine if his violation of the Constitution was an honest mistake or a deliberate deed.
Bid to dissolve South African Parliament fails
South’s main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) has failed in its latest attempt to oust President Jacob Zuma from office as a motion tabled on Tuesday to have parliament dissolved and an early national election called was unsuccessful.
The party is seeking to unseat Zuma before elections scheduled for 2019, citing a record in office marred by allegations of corruption and influence-peddling.
But its motion in parliament failed after only 83 lawmakers supported it while 229 voted against. Seven others abstained.
“South Africa deserves a fresh start and the constitution makes provision for early elections in instances such as these, where there is a legitimacy crisis,” DA chief whip John Steenhuisen said shortly before the vote.
But he turned out to be a lone voice as other opposition parties refused to back the motion.
Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) Chief Whip, Floyd Shivambu, accused the DA of grandstanding and plotting to become a “super political party”.
“We want to reject the motion that is placed here by the DA. We gave the DA an opportunity to lead the August 8 process. We united society, we spoke to members of the ANC. Majority of them; majority of the caucus of the ANC would have voted with us on August 8 if the DA did not make basic tactical mistakes of grandstanding, of wanting to gain glory out of a collective national outcry about one individual who is destroying this country,” Shivambu said.
The ANC, which retains an overwhelming majority in parliament, described the motion as “frivolous”.
“We are rejecting the motion with the contempt it deserves,” said Mzameni Mdakane of the ANC, who further described it as an attempt by the DA to effect regime change and grab power through the back door.
The DA was motivated to make Tuesday’s bid for early elections after about 30 ANC party lawmakers voted with the opposition in the August no-confidence vote.
The 75-year-old Zuma who has survived several previous no-confidence motions, was absent from parliament on Tuesday.
Zuma is due to step down as president of the ruling ANC at a conference in December.
Under his watch, the country has had its credit rating downgraded to junk status by two of the three main global credit rating agencies. In July, Stats SA said nearly a fourth of all households were in poverty, while unemployment has attained 14-year highs at around 28 percent.
However, the economy has emerged from technical recession as agriculture helped it grow more than expected, official figures showed on Tuesday.