For many the ruling of the Constitutional Court handed down by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng on Wednesday, 31 March 2016 will be a reassuring move in a country that has been consumed by scandal and embarrassment for the past two years. The judgment, handed down unanimously, is decisive and has made key rulings on the role of the Public Protector and the responsibilities of our president as well as the role Parliament should have played to hold the Executive accountable.
The decision of the Constitutional Court is a pivotal affirmation of the supremacy of what is right and just in our democracy and that no person is above reproach. It is unfortunate that both the executive and legislative spheres have disappointed so many of us. It has been left to our judiciary to restore order and to reaffirm that no person is above the law or beyond censure.
The decision was phenomenal and essential, especially in the wake of the inaction and “self-help” that President Zuma, his administration and Parliament have gone to at the expense of the Constitution, its citizenry and against all that is right and good for our democracy.
The court made it quite clear that the failure by the “President to comply with the remedial action taken against him, by the Public Protector … is invalid”. The Court went further and stated clearly that the decision by the “National Assembly absolving the President from compliance with the remedial action taken by the Public Protector … is invalid and is set aside”.
South Africa has been exposed to the worst kind of exploitation by both the Executive and legislature, all for the sake of protecting President Zuma, and it has finally been confirmed that this conduct, sophistry and manoeuvring was inconsistent with the Constitution and that it was invalid.
This battle was fought for by the Economic Freedom Fighters, very boldly, in both Parliament and ultimately in the courts as well as by the court applications by the Democratic Alliance. This abuse of power all to avoid responsibility by Mr Zuma was undertaken while South Africans were forced to watch on in shock as every arm of the Executive and the legislature was used in order to avoid accountability. The Court summed up this abuse and avoidance politely by stating that “for well over one year, neither the president nor the National Assembly did what they were required to do in terms of the remedial action”.
What is evident from this entire debacle is that Mr Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma has not lived up to his responsibilities and it has been confirmed by the court that he has hopelessly failed to live up to the ideal that he is “a constitutional being by design, a national pathfinder, the quintessential commander-in-chief of state affairs and the personification of this nation’s constitutional project”.
Similarly, our National Assembly has failed to fulfil its role as the “embodiment of the centuries-old dreams and legitimate aspirations of all our people. It is the voice of all South Africans, especially the poor, the voiceless and the least?remembered”.
Instead, our National Assembly made the choice to protect the narrow interest of one man and to do so at the expense of the poor, the voiceless and the forgotten. Our executive and Legislature have been abused and misdirected in order to protect Mr Zuma at a grave cost to our constitutional democracy.
After such an important judgment, it is unthinkable that Mr Zuma would continue on in office as president. Many of us would hope that the African National Congress is seized with the momentum and opportunity to reaffirm and respect the values of our Constitution and democracy by removing him from office.
However, the saga of Nkandla and the failure of both Parliament and the Executive to abide by its constitutional obligations and duties is not over. We hope that sanity and common sense prevail and that Mr Zuma is relieved of his office and position in government. Sadly, our politics is not that simple and so there will be some manoeuvring that will yet take place.
The only sensible course of action is that the African National Congress must take decisive action against its cadres, deployed as president, parliamentary office-bearers and Cabinet ministers, for failing to fulfil their constitutional duties and responsibilities and for abusing their positions in violation of the Constitution.
We have been tested these past couple of years especially by the ongoing saga with state capture and the Guptas as well as the Nkandla debacle, which is an important reminder to all South Africans that now is the time to protect our Constitution and to do so boldly so that no person, even if he or she is the President of the Republic or the Speaker of Parliament, is allowed to violate the Constitution. We must protect our constitutional project. DM
Andrew Ihsaan Gasnolar was born in Cape Town and raised by his determined mother, grandparents, aunt and the rest of his maternal family. He is an admitted attorney (formerly of the corporate hue), with recent exposure in the public sector, and is currently working on transport and infrastructure projects. He is a Mandela Washington Fellow, a Mandela Rhodes Scholar, and a WEF Global Shaper. He had a brief stint in the contemporary party politic environment working for Mamphela Ramphele as Agang CEO and chief-of-staff; he found the experience a deeply educational one.