South Africa

South Africa

Judge Valley to President Zuma: Time to explain why you fired Gordhan and Jonas

Judge Valley to President Zuma: Time to explain why you fired Gordhan and Jonas

The North Gauteng High Court has given President Jacob Zuma a week to explain why he fired Pravin Gordhan and Mcebisi Jonas. Speculation abounds, and next week we might hear Zuma’s “truth”. By GREG NICOLSON.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) was successful on Thursday in its court application to force Zuma to provide the reasons and record of decision for replacing former Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and his deputy Mcebisi Jonas in the vast Cabinet reshuffle in March. The ruling could have serious ramifications for Zuma, whose move remains the subject of widespread speculation.

Judge Bashier Vally ordered the president to explain himself and provide any information – documents, records, advices and recommendations – used to substantiate getting rid of Gordhan and Jonas. Vally said he’ll provide the full explanation for his ruling next week.

DA Federal Executive Chairperson James Selfe said, “It is high time that those in power, and especially the president, are held accountable for their actions and decisions based on self-interest and personal gain rather than the best interests of our country.”

Selfe said Zuma should also be required to hand over the “intelligence report” provided as one reason for the reshuffle. The report supposedly claimed Gordhan and Jonas were working with international investors to overthrow the state. The ANC has since said it wasn’t the only reason for removing the finance minister, claiming an irretrievable breakdown in Zuma’s relationship with Gordhan was the key motivation. 

There’s much speculation as to Zuma’s reasons for his decisions. There’s a strong belief that he used the “intelligence report” as an excuse to rid Treasury of leadership blocking attempts by Zuma’s allies to loot the state through dodgy contacts. The SACP and ANC leaders have said the report, which didn’t come from the state security minister, was presented as a key reason for Zuma’s reshuffle, while the president has also argued that he wanted to appoint younger leaders. 

“I reshuffled my Cabinet recently and I put a lot of young people in my Cabinet,” News24 quoted the president at the World Economic Forum on Thursday. “Of course people have different views about that, but that’s democracy.”

After the court’s decision, Selfe said he doesn’t know what to expect in the president’s reasoning. “I really have no idea.” The DA’s case was a preliminary step to another court attempt. It wants the courts to find Zuma’s Cabinet reshuffle was unlawful and for it to be set aside.

Asked whether the DA believes a court ruling can reinstate Gordhan and Jonas, Selfe said, “I imagine not, but what will have to happen, the president will have to provide cogent reasons why he dropped Pravin Gordhan from Cabinet.” A court can then evaluate those reasons and potentially find them unlawful, which is what the DA is shooting for.

According to Selfe, even if Zuma decides to appeal the ruling, he’ll still have to provide a record of his decision and the relevant documents to court next week. Daily Maverick couldn’t reach Zuma’s spokesperson Bongani Ngqulunga for comment on Thursday evening.

The president has previously defended his prerogative to appoint Cabinet members and on Thursday his lawyer’s arguments seemed loosely based on that ability. The ANC at the time said, “The president is not obligated to make public the reasons for the removal of ministers from Cabinet,” but he engaged the party’s officials on the issue. The DA argued in court that precedent means Zuma is required to provide a reason for his decision so its rationality can be reviewed.

“It would be very, very interesting to see the kind of reasons the president stictches together,” said political analyst Professor Susan Booysen from the University of the Witwatersrand. “I think that’d be quite the political spectacle.” She noted the various arguments provided for the reshuffle, all them questionable.

“It’s almost a battle the president cannot win because he’s overstepped his mark. He’s operating beyond personal credibility,” said Booysen. “He cannot presently pull together a credible reason in terms of national interests.”

She said Zuma’s approach has always been to draw out and postpone cases through appeals. The DA claims he won’t be able to do that and must provide reasons of his decision next week. It could leave Zuma with little manoeuvring room and however he explains his move will come under heavy scrutiny. Having the reshuffle declared unlawful, however, could take months, if not years. DM

Photo: President Jacob Zuma and Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa flanked  Minister Pravin Gordhan, Deputy Minister Mcebisi Jonas and Director General Lungile Fuzile, Cape Town 22/02/2017, Elmond Jiyane, GCIS

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