Melanie Verwoerd

Can the upcoming court battles hurt Zuma?

2017-08-30 08:00
President Jacob Zuma during his closing speech. (Gianluigi Guercia, AFP)

President Jacob Zuma during his closing speech. (Gianluigi Guercia, AFP)

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September will see a number of important court cases that could well impact on the political landscape.

Because of these and earlier cases the ANC is grumbling increasingly about “court d’etats” (i.e. opponents using court cases to “run” the country).

Of course this would not be the case if the ANC government would not make themselves vulnerable to legal action by dubious political decisions and actions, or if they would win more of the cases taken by the opposition parties against them.

Of the numerous cases pending, three in particular seem to be enjoying the attention of many people due to the possible political ramifications in particular for the ANC presidential race.

The first case relates to the re-instatement of the 783 charges against President Zuma:

In 2016, the Pretoria High Court ruled that Zuma should face 783 charges of fraud, racketeering and corruption. The court ruled that the decision taken in 2009 by Mokotedi Mpshe, then head of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), to drop the charges on the basis that they were politically motivated, was irrational.

The NPA and Zuma approached the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) in Bloemfontein, who agreed to hear arguments on this matter on 15 September.

Many legal commentators believe that the High Court ruling will be upheld and that the charges would be reinstated, which raises the question whether the ANC NEC will then finally ask the president to step down.  

I don’t believe they will. It is almost certain that the NEC members will argue that he is innocent until proven guilty and that the matter will have to run its course before any decision can be made.

The more interesting question is whether it could impact on the succession race at the electoral conference at the end of the year. Again, I don’t believe that it will have any significant impact.

In the event of a ruling that the charges should be re-instated the president will almost certainly take the matter to the Constitutional Court. Given that the SCA can take anything between three weeks to three months to rule on a matter and that Zuma can only then approach the Concourt, it is almost impossible for this issue to be finalised before the electoral conference (assuming it will still take place in December).

Yes, the anti-Zuma faction might feel some sense of vindication on this matter, but it will be little more than that.

The second case relates to Zuma being impeached:

In March, the EFF filed a court application with the Constitutional Court to order the Speaker of Parliament Baleka Mbete to institute impeachment proceedings against Zuma. This matter will be heard on the September 5th. The EFF alleges that the president lied to Parliament on numerous occasions and that this, together with his response to the Nkandla scandal, are grounds for impeachment.

However, most legal commentators do not believe that this application will succeed on the basis that it would violate the doctrine of the separation of powers that impeachment of a president is a prerogative of Parliament and not the judiciary.

The EFF argues that it is well within the court’s powers to instruct Parliament to do what they believe to be its duty. But even on the off-chance that the court agrees with the EFF, it is important to remember that the matter would still have to be decided by the ANC-controlled Parliament.

In order to impeach the president, two-thirds (or 267) of the members have to vote for the motion. Given that only 177 were willing to vote for the motion of no confidence recently, the chance of such a motion succeeding is zero.

As we saw during the vote of no confidence, such a motion would further consolidate the ANC against a “common enemy” and thus only strengthen the Zuma faction as we get closer to the electoral conference.

The third case relates to the validity of the KZN provincial executive:

Two weeks ago a disgruntled group of KZN ANC members took the KZN provincial executive (PEC) to the Pietermaritzburg High Court. They argued that irregularities and corruption took place during the 2015 electoral conference and asked the court to rule that the provincial executive should be dissolved and the election re-run. We are now awaiting judgement.

The court’s ruling in this matter could be crucial for the outcome of the national leadership battle. Currently the KZN PEC is controlled by Zuma supporters and thus they can influence (some would even argue control) the provincial nomination for ANC president as well as the composition of the KZN delegation to the electoral conference.

KZN will have the largest number of delegates at the conference. Given that the presidential race is extremely tight at the moment and that no candidate can win without significant support from KZN, a change at the provincial executive level could swing the outcome of the presidential race.

Of course both sides could still appeal the outcome of the case and that in turn could play into the hands of those who would like the conference to be delayed.

There are numerous other cases of a political nature before the courts. However, the three mentioned above are the big ones that have many holding their breaths. With the exception of the KZN PEC case, the rest will do little more than raise debate and kick up the usual media storm. 

- Melanie Verwoerd is a former ANC MP and South African Ambassador to Ireland. 

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Read more on:    jacob zuma  |  anc leadership race  |  anc
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