ConCourt ruling may leave Ramaphosa stuck between rock and hard place of rival factions
The ball is in the ANC’s court to engineer a dignified exit for President Jacob Zuma, but yesterday’s Constitutional Court ruling may leave new ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa between a rock and a hard place.
This is the view of analysts following the ruling that parliament had failed to hold Zuma to account over a scandal related to state-funded upgrades to his Nkandla home.
The ruling is the latest judicial setback for Zuma, who has faced widespread public demands to step down as president.
In a majority ruling, not supported by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, the court found that parliament had also breached the constitution in its conduct.
While the ruling comes nowhere near starting an impeachment process against Zuma now, it gives parliament six months to make provision for the removal of a president.
It was not immediately clear what specific steps parliament would take, and whether any concrete action would be completed before the 2019 general election, but analysts said the decision would add to the mounting pressure on Zuma to step down.
The rand currency was almost 1% firmer on the last trading day of the year.
Zuma, 75, is already in a weakened position after Ramaphosa was narrowly elected leader of the ANC last week – although Zuma’s faction still retains key positions in the party and he has previously survived no-confidence votes.
“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.
“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.”
The court ruled that parliament, where the ANC holds a commanding majority, needed to act within 180 days.
Lawson Naidoo, executive secretary of the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution, said: “The court is saying that there is no mechanism in place to implement the provision regarding impeachment . . . They must make a provision within the rules for that to happen.”
The EFF and other small opposition parties had taken the issue to the Constitutional Court.
Dozens of EFF supporters, clad in their trademark red shirts and berets, danced and sang outside the court after the judgment was delivered.
Political Futures Consultancy director Daniel Silke said the ball was now in the ANC’s court.
“The pressure will come from within the ANC to engineer a dignified exit for President Zuma . . . this judgment hastens or adds substantial pressure for an early retirement by Zuma,” he said.
“It is not about him anymore, it is about the party trying to chart a new course without the divisiveness that the Zuma issue brings.”
Port Elizabeth-based political analyst Dr Joleen Steyn-Kotze said the court decision left Ramaphosa between a rock and a hard place, as either inaction or a decision to remove Zuma as president could cost Ramaphosa support.
“Ramaphosa is left in a very difficult position,” she said.
“If he doesn’t [act against Zuma], it weakens his hand significantly based on his campaign of morality.
“At the same time, if he does act, the composition of the national executive committee [NEC] might [bring about] a political paralysis, which means the process could drag on.”
Steyn-Kotze was referring to support Zuma still has within the NEC.
The ANC would also have to consider its next steps carefully with the elections in mind, she said.
“The ANC have a big slice of the parliamentary seats, which makes it easy for them to push through or block certain motions, but if they don’t do something now, the chances are that their dominant position will weaken.
“We can’t ignore that [support] in rural areas has already lessened by 5 to 10% in previous elections, while they were unable to secure victory in some metros in 2016.”
Steyn-Kotze suggested that it would save the party a lot of embarrassment if they were to ask for Zuma’s resignation before impeachment processes started.
“If there is action against Zuma, it would make one faction of the ANC stronger than the other. It could also cause a great rift within the party.”
Zuma has faced numerous corruption allegations throughout his presidency. He has denied wrongdoing.
He has also been politically hobbled by a dismal economy that was hit by damaging ratings downgrades earlier this year after he sacked a respected finance minister.
The ANC said in a statement: “The ANC will study the judgment and discuss its full implications when the NEC meets on January 10 2018.”
The judgment stemmed from a scandal that had faded from view in recent months as new allegations of corruption swirled around Zuma.
In March last year, the Constitutional Court ruled that Zuma must pay back some of the state money spent upgrading his private home in rural KwaZulu-Natal.
The unanimous ruling by the 11-judge court said Zuma had failed to uphold, defend and respect the constitution by ignoring the findings of former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela. – Additional reporting by Odette Parfitt