Confederacy of dunces

2012-10-11 00:00

THE Constitutional Court ruling last Friday reaffirmed what the country and perhaps the world has already suspected about President Jacob Zuma — that he cannot be trusted to make informed decisions about executive appointments.

The court confirmed that Zuma’s appointment of Advocate Menzi Simelane was irrational and therefore invalid.

The judgment said Zuma knew very well that there was evidence from the Ginwala Commission which advised him that Simelane lacked the requisite integrity to fulfil his role as the national director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP), and “his conduct left much to be desired”.

“Indeed, these comments represented brightly flashing red lights, warning of impending danger to any person involved in the process of appointment to the position of national director,” the judgment said.

Does it say anything about the man from Nkandla’s judgment in making appointments? Did he refuse advice or was he ill-advised by those around him? Why did he force Simelane’s appointment, knowing his background? Was it another political appointment? Maybe. We cannot say for sure.

Even Simelane’s boss, another Zuma adviser, Justice Minister Jeff Radebe, failed to act when advised to do so by the Public Service Commission.

There has been a litany of errors in Zuma’s appointments, especially in the security and justice clusters. Former police chief Bheki Cele was one of them. And Judge Willem Heath’s overnight exit was a spectacular egg in Zuma’s face.

When the CEO of a big company makes a wrong appointment, it is expected that he will strive to rectify his mistake. If he continues to hire wrongfully, he may be told to outsource this function to experts.

I am not a fan of DA leader Hellen Zille, but I think she is right when she says Zuma should really now consider getting someone from outside the political system to make appointments of this magnitude.

Better still, he should take the advice offered that he make changes to the Constitution and allow for Parliament to make appointments, which, to some extent, will guarantee independence in appointment processes. This would mean the NPA head appointment would be like that of the CEO or heads of other Chapter Nine institutions, such as the public protector and SA Human Rights Commission.

In this process, a specially appointed parliamentary body would make nominations, carry out interviews and send recommendations to the president for final approval.

I am trying not to think that Simelane’s appointment was one of the many deployments by Zuma to reward his political yes-men. But based on the questions that remain above as to why he went ahead with Simelane’s appointment, it would seems like it’s a classic example of the situation where laws are overlooked and unconstitutional adjustments made to give preference to those who are economically and politically connected.

Even Judge Jacoob’s statement may be suspicious of this fact, when he said the NPA head is supposed to be a “non-political chief executive officer”. And that Zuma’s forced appointment of Simelane was “not in keeping with the constitutional guarantee of prosecutorial independence”.

To some extent though, one may understand that as the head of state, Zuma has his hands full and would mostly rely on his advisers in making decisions on appointments such as this.

Chief of them is Radebe, who, according to Constitutional Law expert Pierre de Vos, should be fired.

“He is the one who gave the advice, and you have to wonder if he can be trusted to give any advice to the president ever again.”

If he is not deaf, Zuma should listen and redeem himself by making things right, starting with getting good advisers.

For the vacant NDPP post, he should surprise us all and appoint someone with integrity, honesty and diligence, a politically independent person who also holds the necessary qualifications to assume these important duties.

The Concourt judgment basically invites “President Zuma [and all future presidents of South Africa] to do the right thing and not to appoint an NDPP after considering only irrelevant factors, such as that the appointee is blindly loyal to the president, or that he could be trusted never to bring criminal charges against the president or anyone in his inner circle”, as clearly put by De Vos.

But as Justice Minister, Radebe will be central in advising Zuma in the appointment of the new head of the NPA, as he did with Heath and others, who were an embarrassment.

We can only wonder if these blunders will ever stop.

• Isaac Mangena heads communications at the South African Human Rights Commission.

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