Opinionista Lindiwe Mazibuko 22 March 2014

Impeachment: A critical time for the Speaker

On Thursday, I wrote a letter to the Speaker, Max Sisulu, and requested that he urgently recall the National Assembly to consider a motion to remove President Zuma from office. This motion comes in light of the Public Protector’s findings that President Zuma unduly benefitted from the upgrades made to his private Nkandla homestead.

These upgrades went far beyond the President’s security requirements. At a cost to the public purse of R246 million, the Public Protector has found that these upgrades were “excessive” and constituted “opulence at a grand scale”. Furthermore, the Public Protector’s investigation found that President Zuma accepted this flagrant misuse of public funds in violation of the Constitution and the law.

Under the circumstances, I believe that President Zuma must be impeached in order to hold him accountable for this violation by the Parliament that elected him as President. This is why I have tabled motion to impeach President Zuma in the National Assembly. Whether this motion will be heard in Parliament now largely rests in the hands of the Speaker.

The Fourth Parliament, which was constituted following the 2009 General Elections, is still in session. Although the National Assembly is in recess, the NCOP is still sitting in Parliament. At present, it’s business as usual for Parliament until election day, on 7 May 2014, when the Fourth Parliament’s term will expire. Until this date, the National Assembly can be recalled in order to deal with Parliamentary business – such as the referral of bills by the NCOP or in order to hear urgent motions such as a motion to impeach.

Impeachment is the ultimate democratic sanction of a sitting president by Parliament. Section 89 of the Constitution empowers the National Assembly to remove a sitting president where that president has seriously violated the Constitution or law; or where the president has committed serious misconduct. These are objective criteria which either stand or fall based on the facts at hand. Consequently, when an impeachment motion is tabled before Parliament, Parliament as an institution must investigate the facts and determine whether or not to impeach the president.

I have taken the first step in this process by requesting that the Speaker recall the National Assembly in order to deliberate a motion to remove President Zuma from office. Since the National Assembly is in recess, the Speaker has only two options. He can either establish an ad hoc committee to investigate whether the President’s conduct constitutes grounds for impeachment; or recall the National Assembly to decide whether or not to establish such an ad hoc committee. It therefore up to the Speaker to make the next move.

As the head of the legislative branch of government, the Speaker’s primary duties involve presiding over sittings of the House, maintaining order, and applying the rules of the National Assembly. Although the Speaker is a member of the ANC, he is required to discharge his duties impartially and in such a manner as to protect the rights of all political parties in Parliament.

Once an ad hoc committee has been established, the Speaker will give the motion to the ad hoc committee for consideration. The motion will request that the committee note the findings of the Public Protector’s investigation and determine whether the President violated his oath of office, the Constitution, or law or whether the President’s actions constitute serious misconduct. The committee will then recommend to the House whether the President should be removed from office or not and a vote will be taken in the National Assembly. By virtue of his position, the Speaker is charged with ensuring the due process of this impeachment motion.

As the Speaker of the National Assembly, Max Sisulu has done an exemplary job over the term of the Fourth Parliament. Although we have had our disagreements, I am satisfied that he has discharged his constitutional and statutory obligations dutifully and impartially. I have every reason to believe that he will do so again in respect of this motion. I can only hope that the members of the ANC will respect his duty as Speaker and that he will not suffer any political fallout with his party.

Given the serious findings arising from the Public Protector’s investigation and the urgency created by the upcoming elections, the Speaker must act in response to my letter. He must apply the rules in order to afford Parliament the opportunity to decide for itself whether the facts presented by the Public Protector constitute grounds for impeachment. Importantly, the Speaker cannot refrain from action.

I am reminded of the Constitutional Court’s judgment regarding the motion of no confidence that I tabled against President Zuma in 2012. The motion of no confidence was delayed due to a deadlock in the Programme Committee which is responsible for scheduling motions in the National Assembly. Speaking for the majority in respect of a motion of no confidence, Deputy Chief Justice Moseneke, stated:

“It seems to me plain that when a member of or a political party within the Assembly, tables a motion of no confidence in terms of section 102(2) in accordance with the Rules, the motion deserves the serious and prompt attention of the responsible committee or committees of the Assembly and, in the last resort, of the Assembly itself. The responsible committee or the Assembly must take steps that ensure that the motion is tabled and voted on without unreasonable delay.”

A motion to impeach is a constitutional imperative. Its implications are far more serious than that of a motion of no confidence. The Speaker must now promptly take steps to ensure that the motion to impeach is tabled and voted on promptly and without unreasonable delay.

The DA will take every step to ensure that the impeachment motion is heard by this Fourth Parliament. Indeed, six weeks is more than enough time to do so. The DA has fought hard to ensure that the truth surrounding President Zuma’s involvement with Nkandla comes to light. Now, we will fight hard to ensure that justice is served. If we are to win the fight against corruption in government, then we must hold President Zuma accountable for this flagrant misuse of public funds. To repay the money is not sufficient. President Zuma must be impeached.

This is motion is an opportunity for Parliament to become the institution envisaged by the Constitution. The Speaker has the opportunity to restore the faith of the South African people in their Parliament ahead of the elections and ensure that Parliament leads the fight against corruption. The legacy of Parliament will be determined by the Speaker’s conduct in this moment. DM

Mazibuko is Parliamentary Leader of the Democratic Alliance


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