Mpumelelo Mkhabela

SONA2017: Zuma's paranoia on par with PW's

2017-02-08 09:05
(Mike Hutchings, AP)

(Mike Hutchings, AP)

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Why can’t he deliver the state of the nation address via a live television broadcast from Nkandla, where he will be secure in comfort?

This was the reaction of my friend when I shared the news that President Jacob Zuma had decided to deploy soldiers “to maintain law and order” during his state of the nation address in Parliament.

In addition to the architectural designs of Minenhle Makhanya, the concrete and other material, the other key ingredients of the Nkandla edifice were corruption and the violation of the Constitution. The Constitution is the supreme law that must be maintained at all times.

It was Zuma’s violation of this legitimate law, the anchor for order in society, that is the basis of his fears each time he is scheduled to appear before Parliament. Some members of Parliament (MPs) who took him to court and were vindicated want “to maintain law and order” by getting him to account for the violation.

Zuma’s decision to deploy 441 soldiers in Parliament “to maintain law and order” came as a shock. Opposition parties are alarmed by this when no drastic decision was taken against him when he failed to fulfil his obligation to maintain the Constitution in the Nkandla matter. Only Zuma and his security advisors see a security threat that could undermine law and order during a joint sitting of a democratically elected Parliament.

Calling in the SANDF is a graphic illustration of the real state of the nation according to Zuma. It is a state of the nation which, as he sees it, needs military, command-style leadership to fix; not the democratic-type order which by its very nature is noisy. The latter irritates Zuma. He feels abused.

Zuma once remarked that he wished he could be a dictator for a few months to fix the country. Now we know he was not joking. We know what he is capable of.

Given a chance, the Guptas would flank him in Cabinet and he would create a security state over which he presides as commander-in-chief of the armed forces. Fortunately, the drafters of our Constitution were not inspired by dictatorship.

The man who rose to power under the guise that he would be a humble servant of the masses is detached from the people, the Constitution and the rule of law. Zuma sees security threats where there are none.

For him a robust parliamentary engagement by representatives of the people and marches planned to coincide with the State of the Nation Address – the real trappings of democracy itself   – are a threat to law and order. These threats are, according to Zuma, of such a grand scale that not even the police will be able to manage them. Such paranoia is comparable only to PW Botha’s.

A cursory glance at the Constitution shows that Zuma’s deployment of soldiers is unconstitutional and unlawful. Section 201 of the Constitution provides that the president, as head of the executive, may authorise the employment of the South African National Defence Force in cooperation with the South African Police Service to maintain law and order where the police service is unable to do the job.

The constitutional provisions raise some interesting questions. Has the police service failed in its duty to maintain law and order in relation to the State of the Nation Address? Where is the evidence that the police has failed? The constitutional provisions are clearly meant to address an unfolding situation where the police service is evidently failing to maintain law and order on its own. But this unmanageable disorderly situation is unfolding only in Zuma’s mind.

Having known well in advance of the State of the Nation Address, a high-profile annual event in our national calendar, it would be incompetent of the police not to have planned adequately. But even their maintaining of law and order is restricted to the periphery when it comes to parliamentary proceedings.

The police cannot intervene if MPs decide to make their own proceedings ungovernable. Zuma, who is not a MP, has no say over the rules of Parliament or the conduct of its members. He is accountable to Parliament. He can’t change this by bringing in the SANDF.

In the Constitutional Court case brought by the DA against the presiding officers of Parliament following the violent eviction of EFF MPs from Parliament, the court warned against the involvement of security agencies in Parliament.

The Constitutional Court said: “Parliament is tasked with the onerous task of overseeing the Executive. Tyrannical rule is usually at the hands of the Executive, not least because it exercises control over the police and army, two instruments often used to prop up the tyrant through means like arrest, detention, torture and even execution. Even in a democracy, one cannot discount the temptation of the improper use of state organs to further the interests of some within the Executive.”

Section 18 of the Defence Act allows the president or the minister of defence to authorise the employment of the SANDF for service inside or outside the country to preserve life, health or property; to ensure provision of essential services including support for socio-economic upliftment; and to effect national border control.

Given the needs of communities around the country, there is no doubt South Africans would like their SANDF to perform more of these functions on the domestic front during peacetime. During her tenure as defence minister, Lindiwe Sisulu pushed hard to get the soldiers out of the barracks to assist communities in distress.

Lest we hark back to the days of apartheid when the army fought the people, including school children, the SANDF in a democracy must never be seen as an instrument to be used by politicians.

Although the president is the commander-in-chief in terms of the Constitution, the armed forces are ultimately not accountable to him personally. He is not allowed to deploy or even to threaten to unleash them unlawfully.

There’s one thing Zuma finds it hard to accept: political power has limits. 

- Mkhabela is a fellow at the Centre for the Study of Governance Innovation (GovInn) at the University of Pretoria.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    zuma  |  jacob  |  sona 2017
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