Public Protector Thuli Madonsela was the biggest winner to emerge from this week’s Constitutional Court hearing into the Nkandla saga – and President Jacob Zuma, Parliament, Cabinet Ministers and sycophantic MPs the biggest losers, notes Legalbrief. Constitutional law expert Professor Pierre de Vos makes the point that Zuma’s lawyers accepted Thuli Madonsela’s Nkandla report was binding and had to be implemented, adding Zuma also conceded he had been in the wrong and that his actions were based on the fear of impeachment. ‘Thirdly, Parliament did not concede that it acted wrongly, but given the other concessions, it is almost certain that the court will find Parliament completely stuffed up the way it dealt with the Public Protector’s report,’ De Vos is quoted as saying in a News24 report. De Vos said he hoped the justices would deliver clear guidance about Parliament’s role in holding the executive accountable ‘because from the hearing it appears Parliament is not doing what the Constitution requires it to do.’ De Vos also praised Wim Trengrove, for the EFF, for presenting a ‘strong, logical, and rational’ case.
The hearing has exposed senior ANC leaders and some National Assembly members as sycophants who would turn a blind eye to injustices to protect their jobs, according to a report in The Star quoting political and constitutional law experts. ‘Yesterday (Tuesday) was humiliating and embarrassing for the President, for his party, for Parliament and the Speaker, for the Minister of Police. It is very clear that the integrity of our democratic institution is being sacrificed on the altar of sycophancy in defence of interest that has very little to do with enhancing the democratic dispensation,’ political analyst Aubrey Matshiqi said yesterday. His views were echoed by De Vos, who said: ‘Parliament doesn’t have a good understanding of its role to hold the executive accountable. Some of it might have to do with their ignorance, some to do with MPs’ insecurities because their positions are dependent on the very same President they have to hold accountable. It’s a huge embarrassment for the President, Parliament and legal advisers,’ he said. Prince Mashele, from the Centre for Politics and Research, says that by trying to settle the matter out of court last week – and Zuma conceding he had been wrong – was a ‘move away from his earlier arrogance’. Mashele said Advocate Jeremy Gauntlett’s admissions on Tuesday ‘speak volumes’. ‘If the court arrives at the conclusion that the President violated the Constitution, Zuma’s political position will become untenable. By offering to pay back the money and making these admissions, he was seeking to soften the attitude of the Bench,’ he said. Mcebisi Ndletyana, associate professor of political science at the University of Johannesburg, said Tuesday’s showdown was ‘an admission of abuse of power and the ultimate affirmation of our constitutional state. ‘It is a matter of the President being humbled and being subjected to the courts’.
It is clear Zuma betrayed members of his Cabinet and ANC MPs, according to United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa in a City Press report. He noted several Ministers and MPs had denigrated the Public Protector and defended the President in parliamentary committees, investigations and during ad hoc committee discussions. Holomisa said: ‘What is coming out clearly is that Zuma has betrayed the Ministers and MPs of the ANC – whether it was on a committee or wherever. At the end of the day the ANC voted to say Zuma must not pay. He betrayed them.’ He added: ‘How will they be able to look South Africans in the face after the way in which they protected him?’ Any consequences Zuma may face is largely in the hands of the ANC, Paul Hoffman, of Accountability Now, is quoted as saying in a report in Die Burger. Hoffman is confident the court will find Zuma’s conduct over the past two years to be in breach of the Constitution, but says it will take far more than such a finding to bring about the President’s demise. ‘If the ANC doesn’t do something and show its dissatisfaction, any attempt (at impeachment) will fail and Zuma will stay.’
One of those most compromised by Zuma’s climbdown was Police Minister Nathi Nhleko, whose outrageous report on how those Nkandla structures – the swimming pool, chicken run, amphitheatre and others – deemed to have nothing to do with security by the Public Protector were portrayed by the Minister as doubling as security features. A report on the RDM site notes Advocate William Mokhari SC, on Nhleko’s behalf, explained that the Minister was following instructions. The instruction was from Zuma and the National Assembly. ‘The Minister‘s hands were tied,’ he is quoted as saying.
The issue is also taken up in a Business Day editorial, which says ‘in a single stroke, Zuma nullified the elaborate efforts state officials and ANC MPs had made to exonerate him from paying’. Whatever the outcome of the court case, the damage to the President’s credibility, and that of Parliament and the ANC, won’t be repaired easily. The editorial notes the President’s capitulation was forced on him by compelling legal opinion, not by any sudden political wisdom or contrition. Zuma is guilty of wasting state resources on trying to defend the indefensible, so undermining the office of the Presidency. ‘But,’ says the editorial, ‘if the battle over paying back the Nkandla money has compromised the President and his office, even more disturbing are the shortcomings it has highlighted in the leadership of the National Assembly and the ANC’s parliamentary caucus. Instead of holding the executive to account, the legislature proved throughout the scandal to be mere protectors of the President and his cronies.’ It adds: ‘The ignominious showing by the National Assembly’s legal counsel at the court hearing was just another part of the sham. Parliament’s presiding officers and the ANC caucus undermined the Public Protector and her findings and declined to hold the President to account. In the process, they made the chamber an undignified battleground. They dented Parliament’s standing and eroded public trust in the processes of democratic government. For that, Speaker Baleka Mbete and the ANC should be held to account.’
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