THE African National Congress (ANC) was thrown into panic mode last night following the Constitutional Court ruling that condemned President Jacob Zuma’s handling of the Nkandla controversy.
It was unclear whether a crisis meeting of the ANC’s top six officials took place last night.
Earlier in the day, secretary-general Gwede Mantashe had said a meeting would be held.
Reading a unanimous judgment of the 11 justices of the Constitutional Court on Thursday morning, Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng found that president Zuma’s conduct was not consistent with the Constitution.
He said Mr Zuma had failed to protect Public Protector Thuli Madonsela after she made adverse findings against him in her Nkandla report.
The court found that Parliament had also failed to hold the executive accountable and that it had erred by substituting Ms Madonsela’s findings and remedial actions with its own.
The party’s top six met to discuss the implications of the judgement, which made adverse findings on its president and chairwoman Baleka Mbete, who is also the Speaker of Parliament. The meeting also took place amid calls both inside and outside the party for Mr Zuma to resign.
The judgment threw the country into a political cul de sac, and there were concerns that, if not well handled, it could result in a political crisis. The ruling was seen as a significant milestone in clearing grave shortcomings in the conduct of key players: the executive and the legislature — the two bodies that, with the judiciary, complete the three arms of a state in a constitutional democracy.
The court ruled that the resolution by Parliament that absolved Mr Zuma from complying with the public protector’s report on the Nkandla upgrades was inconsistent with the Constitution and thus, invalid. The court also found that Parliament, which is meant to hold the executive accountable, had violated the Constitution in its handling of the Nkandla issue — prompting calls by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) to dissolve Parliament and hold early elections.
However, the court did cut the president some slack — he would pay only for the five items listed in Ms Madonsela’s report, and no further determination of other nonsecurity items would have to be made — which was part of her remedial action in her report.
The ruling means Mr Zuma will have to pay personally an estimated R10m, according to the public protector.
The court tasked the Treasury with determining the actual amount within 60 days, and gave the president 45 days after the determination to pay.
For Mr Zuma, the damning Nkandla ruling comes amid growing questions within the ANC over his continued suitability for the post of the country’s first citizen. He is facing scrutiny over his relationship with the Gupta family.
The official opposition, the Democratic Alliance (DA) is planning a reinstatement of corruption charges against him. Many in the ANC feel he will be a liability in an election year.
Mr Zuma was reflecting on the court judgment and would decide on “appropriate action” in consultation with Parliament, his office said on Thursday.
The judgment also put to rest the debate on the binding nature of the public protector’s remedial action, which was called into question in the Nkandla fallout. Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution executive secretary Lawson Naidoo said Mr Zuma had to adhere to the judgment or he could be in contempt or court. He described the judgment as “seminal”, as it cut to the heart of SA’s constitutional order.
The big challenge for Parliament now, Mr Naidoo said, was to re-engineer its processes to more effectively hold the executive to account. The judgment also showed how the Nkandla issue had muddied the separation of powers between the three arms of government — Parliament had effectively set aside Ms Madonsela’s findings, which “usurp(ed) the authority vested only in the judiciary”, it read.
The DA immediately initiated impeachment proceedings. It has written to Ms Mbete, notifying her of the move. Impeachment was a long shot, said legal analysts, in the absence of a buy in from the ANC, the majority party.
The EFF, which lodged the application with the Constitutional Court appealed to the ANC to act against the president. Should it fail to do so, the party said it would mobilise South Africans to take to the streets to call for his removal. EFF leader Julius Malema at a media briefing on Thursday said Parliament should be dissolved as it and the head of the executive were “illegitimate”. He called for an early election to be held.
Constitutional law expert Pierre de Vos said this was not immediately possible. Three years had to pass in a five year term for an early election to be held, or Parliament could dissolve itself and call for fresh elections. Alternately, should the president resign and Parliament fail to elect a new president in the allotted time, early elections could be held.