Days before the DA’s motion of no confidence in President Jacob Zuma failed – once again – opposition parties applied to the Constitutional Court – once again – in another bid to remove him from the Union Buildings. Led by the EFF, these parties want the president to be impeached, as set out in Section 89 of the Constitution.
President Zuma has his fair share of court cases to juggle. He is trying to review the Public Protector’s recommendations in the state capture report and the Supreme Court of Appeal is set to consider the 783 charges of corruption, fraud and racketerring against him in September. But the EFF has not based its arguments on old charges preceding Zuma’s presidency, neither is it calling for his head on allegations related to the biggest political scandal of 2017. No, the EFF has returned to the one case that has been hanging over Zuma’s head since his re-election into office – Nkandla.
The EFF is asking the apex court to instruct the National Assembly to establish a committee to probe the extent of Zuma’s transgressions in relation to the Nkandla matter, and determine “if he is guilty of an offence which would warrant his impeachment”.
It believes the president is guilty of misconduct as the Public Protector’s Nkandla report – which remains unchallenged in court – found Zuma’s conduct to be “inconsistent with his office”. It further cites the damning findings by the Constitutional Court in the Nkandla judgement and believes Zuma could have mislead parliament when asked in 2012 and 2013 about his knowledge of what was happening at his private home.
“Where there are good reasons to believe the President unduly enriched himself at the expense of the nation, improperly benefited from public money and lied to Parliament, the NA has no choice but to take action,” the application reads. “Its persistent inaction is unconstitutional.”
The EFF subsequently wants the court to declare that the National Assembly failed to hold the president accountable. The party argues the legislature has been failing in its obligations since March 2014, when the Nkandla report was released and has continued to do so ever since. Ironically, the EFF is one of the parties in opposition to the DA’s motion to have parliament dissolved.
Surely if the president’s transgressions justify impeachment, the NA’s failure in its constitutional obligations cannot go unanswered. It also raises the question why a motion to have Parliament dissolved has only been tabled more than three years later.
The Political Conundrum
The majority of political court cases, especially those heard in the Constitutional Court ultimately return to the National Assembly where the legal victory is simply killed-off by a complicit majority.
Opposition parties have cited moral and legal grounds as well as constitutional duties and obligations towards the electorate. Regardless, every motion brought against No. 1 has failed. And I suspect the result would be the same for the impeachment motion.
While the ANC caucus is split, it is clear MPs are more than willing to tow the party line at the expense of the above mentioned responsibilities. What is worse is that opposition parties will have to convince an even greater number of ANC members to vote against the president should an impeachment eventually be tabled. Whereas a vote of no confidence required a simple majority, an impeachment requires at least two thirds.
A new drama to hit screens
Perhaps the removal of Zuma via impeachment would only be a by-product, while the true victory is won long before the NA votes.
Currently, the rules of Parliament do not include a ‘fact finding’ process ahead of an impeachment vote. As such, the EFF has asked the court to give instruction in this regard.
Among its requests of the court, the EFF wants the committee to be multi-party, have it consider relevant documentation and question witnesses, including Zuma himself, and above all, it wants this process to unfold in public.
As the political victory of the recent motion was not so much the removal of the president but the demonstration of a divided, yet still complicit ANC, this application could prove to have a similar goal.
Opposition parties would be able to take the Public Protector’s findings on Nkandla further, scrutinise senior political officials, and if played right, ensure significant embarrassment for the president. Jacob Zuma could also help opposition parties build a stronger case against him and put more pressure on the governing party. And regardless of the outcome of the vote, opposition parties are one step closer to their true goal – securing an electoral upset in 2019.