What the impeachment ruling means for Zuma and Parliament

Constitutional court. (News24)
Constitutional court. (News24)

On Friday the Constitutional Court ruled that the National Assembly failed to hold President Jacob Zuma to account.

- Read: National Assembly failed to hold Zuma to account

What does the judgment mean for Parliament and President Zuma?

The Constitutional Court found that the National Assembly failed in its Constitutional duty to put in place mechanisms to hold the president accountable.

" While the court doesn’t have the power to tell Parliament what processes to follow, it did find that the National Assembly did not have the necessary mechanisms in place to hold the president to account and ordered it to do so,” Lawson Naidoo of the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (Casac) explained.

"This is a real indictment of the National Assembly and they will now have to go back and get it right.”

The court also ordered that Zuma and Parliament pay the costs of the application.

Does the judgment mean impeachment is on the cards?

The opposition parties who brought the case want to compel the National Assembly to impeach the president. Does the judgment necessarily mean it will?

A president can only be impeached if it is found that he has acted in serious violation of the Constitution. The Constitution, however, does not determine what constitutes a “serious violation” and Parliament will first have to determine this.

"What is likely to happen is that Parliament’s rules committee will convene to decide what the correct process is to determine this," Naidoo said.

"If it is found that Zuma has seriously violated the Constitution, then the Speaker will have to institute impeachment proceedings."

How does the impeachment process work?

Should the National Assembly decide to proceed with an impeachment process under Section 89 of the Constitution‚ it still requires a two-thirds vote by Members of Parliament to impeach Zuma for him to leave office. If he is impeached, he loses all  his presidential benefits, including his pension and security detail.

"An impeachment is a punitive measure of which the implications are much more detailed and severe than any of the other options that allow for the removal of a president," Naidoo added.

"It is the last resort."

Where did this application originate from?

Three opposition parties, namely the EFF, Cope and the UDM asked the court to compel Parliament to hold the president to account, after it found in its Nkandla judgment that Zuma failed to uphold, protect and defend the Constitution as per his presidential mandate.

Justice Chris Jafta described the judgment as a sequel to the Nkandla judgment. It is an apt description in that the judgment deals with the National Assembly’s failure to act against the president after the Nkandla judgment.

Is it uncommon for the Chief Justice to disagree with the majority?

Jafta said during the reading of the judgment that: "The Chief Justice characterises the majority judgment as a textbook case of judicial overreach, a Constitutionally impermissible intrusion by the judiciary into the exclusive domain of Parliament."

Is this uncommon?

"No, not really," Naidoo said.

"The Chief Justice is one of the 11 officers of the Constitutional Court and his view was recorded in one of the four judgments prepared on the case. The fact that there were so many differing views on the Bench simply speaks to the complexity of the matter. Different people will have different views on where the line should be drawn when it comes to the separation of powers. However, the majority judgment stands." 

Can the judgment be challenged?

No, this is the end of the road and the Speaker of the National Assembly will have to abide by the judgment.

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