Shilowa: Leave Mbeki alone

Gauteng Premier Mbhazima Shilowa has reacted sharply to Judge Chris Nicholson’s judgement in the Jacob Zuma case, saying it largely comprised the judge’s personal opinions and warning that many ministers might leave the Cabinet if Thabo Mbeki is ousted as president.

Speaking exclusively to the Mail & Guardian, Shilowa—a staunch Mbeki supporter and former Gauteng African National Congress (ANC) leader—said he hoped Nicholson’s views would not influence the ANC in deciding Mbeki’s fate.

“Nicholson said things that aren’t based on anything factual,” he said. “I have no difficulty with him having an opinion, but you can’t elevate an opinion to a fact.

The judgement was damning for Mbeki, he conceded, “but I am saying those pronouncements have no basis in law”.

In particular, Shilowa said he did not understand why Nicholson saw fit to pronounce on whether Mbeki should have contested the ANC presidency at the party’s Polokwane conference.

“What business is it of his to say Mbeki should not have contested because it was divisive?” he asked.

Shilowa said the judge had acted unfairly by drawing inferences about Mbeki, who was not part of the proceedings.

Nicholson had provided no proof that the president or his Cabinet were guilty of political interference in the prosecution of Zuma.

“He produced no evidence and tested no evidence. He says, as if it’s a fact, that Cabinet must have discussed the JZ matter—but where is the proof?

“Remember JZ was part of the Cabinet.
How is it possible that such a situation could have arisen?”

Shilowa said he agreed with Zuma’s view that it was unnecessary to remove Mbeki from the presidency.

“I just hope that when the ANC leadership discusses the issue they will separate facts from opinion. I personally don’t think the judgement provides any basis to say the president must go.”

Shilowa warned that forcing Mbeki out might have unintended consequences for the ANC.

“There may be people who’ll say we might as well leave with him. That is not going to be good for the ANC or the country.

“The ANC itself has said it wants a smooth transition. That is why it placed Kgalema Motlanthe in the Cabinet.”

He also questioned the risky mechanisms that would have to be followed.

“If you are going to impeach Mbeki you must say he violated the Constitution in this particular manner. You can’t simply make statements—you have to substantiate them. That means there would have to be a hearing where those who seek to impeach have to provide evidence and the president must go in front of Parliament to defend himself.

“Is that the kind of thing we want to go through? I think not.”

A motion of no-confidence would divide the ANC “because there is no way you can assume that everyone in the
ANC caucus will vote for that motion”, Shilowa said.

“I think members of the executive will not vote for that motion. If you have a secret ballot others may not necessarily support it.

“You then have to team with Independent Democrats and the Democratic Alliance. To what end, when you could immediately move into elections and emerge with a unified ANC?”

Shilowa warned that a no-confidence motion was a high-risk strategy.

“I’ve read in the newspapers people saying you can use the Gordon Brown/Tony Blair option [where Mbeki would agree to step down].

“Read the Constitution: you will find there is no such thing. The Brown/Blair solution happens when things are done voluntarily and amicably.

“And the Labour Party still had three more years in power. What is the point if you are left with seven months?”

Rapule Tabane

Rapule Tabane

Rapule Tabane is the Mail & Guardian's politics editor. He sometimes worries that he is a sports fanatic, but is in fact just crazy about Orlando Pirates. While he used to love reading only fiction, he is now gradually starting to enjoy political biographies. He was a big fan of Barack Obama, but now accepts that even he is only mortal. Read more from Rapule Tabane

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