Judge’s ruling on Zuma’s Cabinet reshuffle was right move, say law experts

Johannesburg - A ruling by Judge Bashier Vally that President Jacob Zuma hand over all records explaining the reason why he reshuffled the Cabinet was the correct one to make, law experts have said.

Speaking to News24 shortly after the ruling was handed down, Ulrich Roux told News24 that the most important outcome of the ruling was that it highlighted the importance of transparency.

“The most important thing is that there should be transparency and I think that is what the court found as well, that a decision of this magnitude, that has such a far reaching effect affects an entire community and their income and the economy of the country,” Roux said.

“That is a decision where you need transparency and I think the court is correct in saying that he must provide reasons.”

Sitting in the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria on Thursday, and after listening to arguments, Vally said he would give reasons for the ruling next Tuesday.

In court papers, Zuma had said that the DA's urgent application to have reasons for the recent Cabinet reshuffle divulged was misconceived and without merit.

The Democratic Alliance filed an urgent application with the court on April 24, to force Zuma to disclose his reasons for reshuffling his Cabinet on March 30.

Zuma argued he was exercising his powers in terms of section 91 (2) of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa. He said it was an executive decision that deserved protection from disclosure.

Zuma's lawyers argued that the DA had already acknowledged this and, on that basis, was not entitled to any record of the decision.

However, the DA said it wanted the court to review and set aside Zuma's decision to dismiss Pravin Gordhan as finance minister, and his deputy Mcebisi Jonas.

Opportunity for Zuma

The DA said its application for a review of Zuma's move was unable to proceed because he had refused to file the record and reasons for his decision. This was "simply wrong as a matter of law".

Roux said this ruling would give Zuma an opportunity to win back the trust of South Africans.

“The president, of all people, must be the person who takes his country into his confidence and explain certain decisions. And you can see what the effects were."

Since Zuma’s late night Cabinet reshuffle announcement on March 30, there had been a number of actions taken by civil society expressing their unhappiness with the manner in which the ministers were fired, Roux said.

“I think if he can offer a good explanation, and emphasis on the word if, as to why he fired Pravin Gordhan then surely that will instill a bit of confidence in society to his ability to run the country,” he said.

Zuma had been elected into his position and so he was accountable to South Africans.

“This is not a dictatorship, he is not a tyrant, he is not a king. He is a person who has been elected as the president of the country and once again the most important thing is that he must take the country into his confidence and he must let the country know why he acts in certain ways, so that the country can at least have faith in its president that he's doing what’s in the country’s best interest.”

Another expert, James Grant, told News24 that he did not see how the court could have arrived at any other decision other than the one it had made.

Basis of argument

“What’s at issue here is not his right to make the decision [to reshuffle his cabinet] but that when he makes a decision, he must have - not even a good reason - but reasons which could possibly justify that decision, that’s all.

“That’s all that the rule of law requires and that’s the basis of their [DA] argument."

He said it would be meaningless for society to say they were entitled to the exercise of public power being justified and yet they had no right to the reasons that would justify such an exercise.

“In law, your public is entitled to those reasons being logical but yet the public are never allowed to check the logic.

“I don’t see how the court could have arrived at an alternative decision,” Grant said.

Both Grant and Roux said they foresaw a possible move to appeal the court’s ruling.

Constitutional Court

“We all have to wait and see whether he is going to try and appeal this or whether he is going to try and negotiate some or other deal, but at this stage he has got five days to tell the country why he fired the minister of finance. Let’s just say, I won’t be surprised if he doesn’t,” Roux said.

“I expect an appeal that we’ll see an immediate action and some very fast movement on this,” Grant said.

He said the matter may get to a point where the matter ultimately made its way to the Constitutional Court.

“We might see the General Ntlemeza [matter] where you might see an appeal being dismissed, together with the applicants asking for an enforcement order, the court granting the enforcement order, the president then appealing further and the enforcement order being suspended pending appeal.

“And then, because this is so crucial, I foresee that that provision in our law which would suspend the execution of that order, I foresee that being challenged urgently on a Constitutional basis.

“I think it has to,” Grant said.

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