President Jacob Zuma’s big dreams for a nuclear programme have been set back after the Western Cape high court found the co-operation agreements with Russia to be unconstitutional and unlawful. Now he might have another problem with the courts after ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe exposed a falsehood in the president’s papers before the Constitutional Court. Is it a question of semantics and interpretation or was Zuma and/or his lawyers deliberately trying to mislead the highest court of the land? By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.
Following Zuma’s midnight Cabinet reshuffle last month, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe and treasurer general Zweli Mkhize voiced their opposition to the firing of Pravin Gordhan and Mcebisi Jonas from the finance ministry. They also expressed concern about who was consulted about the reshuffle, saying the new list of Cabinet members was drawn up elsewhere – that is, outside the ANC.
In the United Democratic Movement’s (UDM) application to the Constitutional Court for a secret ballot during the motion of no confidence in the president, the party’s leader Bantu Holomisa refers in his affidavit to Ramaphosa, Mantashe and Mkhize’s opposition to the reshuffle. Then, to illustrate the ANC’s efforts to clamp down on dissent, Holomisa referred to the outcomes of the national working committee (NWC) meeting on April 4 when the ANC closed ranks and confirmed that its parliamentary caucus would not vote with opposition parties on the motion of no confidence.
In his answering affidavit, Zuma, who is the second respondent in the matter, states what he does as president of the ANC are “matters political”: “What I do as President of the Republic requires compliance with the Constitution and the law.”
“As a political party, there are a brought [sic] range of political and ideological considerations that inform what we do. On the other hand public office requires the exercise of public power to be done within the constitutional constraints, least of which is rationality. My decision to reshuffle the cabinet was done for rational purposes,” Zuma says.
But in his lawyers’ heads of argument, it is stated:
“The applicant relies on the utterances attributed to the Secretary General of the ANC, Mr Gwede Mantashe, and the Deputy President, Mr Cyril Ramaphosa, regarding a perceived failure by the President to consult with ANC leaders and/or officials about changes to cabinet. These utterances were in their capacity as ANC officials. In any event these utterances cannot be relied on as the two subsequently publicly apologised for making them.”
It is the last sentence that Mantashe has taken issue with. In an interview with Sowetan, he said: “That is a lie. We didn’t apologise.”
Asked if he was calling Zuma a liar, Mantashe said “Ok, bye bye” and hung up.
In an interview with EWN, Mantashe insisted there was no apology.
“Nobody was asked to apologise and so there was no apology; there could have been no apology.”
This was backed up by a tweet from ANC national executive committee (NEC) and NWC member Derek Hanekom. Hanekom tweeted on Wednesday: “That is perfectly true. I was at the NWC meeting. There was nothing to apologize for.”
Indeed the NWC statement Mantashe read at a media briefing on April 5 did not refer to an apology. It said:
“The Officials have given to the NWC a candid report about their serious and difficult disagreement. They have further acknowledged that their public dissonance on the matter was a mistake that should not be committed again.”
The “mistake”, as the statement put it, was the “public dissonance” between the officials. But is a declaration of a mistake an apology? It is certainly open to interpretation as many people believed this meant Mantashe and others recanted on their criticism of the reshuffle. This is how the term “to Mantash”, meaning to change your mind abruptly, came to be added to the South African lexicon.
Initial reports interpreted Mantashe’s comments to mean Zuma lied in his affidavit to the Constitutional Court that he and Ramaphosa had apologised. But the claim was made in the “practice note” in Zuma’s heads of argument, not in his sworn affidavit.
Still, why would his lawyers have claimed this if they were not told so by him?
The secretary general seems to have chosen his words carefully. He says the claim of the apology is a lie but does not say who lied.
Asked by EWN about this, Mantashe said Zuma’s legal team should answer why they claimed he and Ramaphosa apologised.
Ramaphosa’s statements at the Chris Hani memorial event in Uitenhage made it clear that he remained concerned about the reshuffle and how it happened.
“The manner and form of the cabinet reshuffle a few weeks ago heightened tensions within the movement, causing some comrades to engage in bitter exchanges in public statements and on social media,” he said.
If Ramaphosa had apologised for his criticism of the reshuffle at the NWC, surely he would not have repeated it.
The fact that Mantashe called out the untruth in Zuma’s court papers means he too is digging in their heels on the issue. The friction between Zuma and the other ANC officials can no longer be hidden behind a façade of unity. Mantashe and Ramaphosa are clearly refusing to be browbeaten by Zuma and his supporters.
It remains to be seen how Zuma’s lawyers explain the claim that Mantashe and Ramaphosa “apologised” when the matter is argued before the Constitutional Court. They will either have to argue that the NWC’s pronouncement about the dissonance being a “mistake” constituted an apology or that their client maintains the officials did apologise at the meeting. Perhaps the court might seek clarity from Mantashe and Ramaphosa if the judges believe it is material to the case.
The legal conundrum aside, the relationship at the senior most level of the ANC is certainly getting messier. Did Mantashe intend the inference that Zuma himself was lying to the Constitutional Court? Did Zuma assume that the ANC officials would keep silent and go along with his claim that they apologised?
The big question is how will the NEC deal with all this when it meets in May?
The genie is clearly out of the bottle and this has implications for Zuma’s position as head of state, for the factional wars raging in the party and, and most of all, for how the ANC succession battle will play out. DM
Original Photo: South African President Jacob Zuma (R) greets ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe (L) as he arrives for the the opening session of the ruling African National Congress (ANC)’s national general council in Durban, South Africa, 20 September 2010. EPA/JON HRUSA
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