/ 15 July 2013

Does Zuma hold the power to fire provincial premiers?

President Jacob Zuma arrived in Addis Ababa
President Jacob Zuma arrived in Addis Ababa

Cassel Mathale handed in his resignation as Limpopo premier on Monday. Weekend reports suggested he would either be "fired" or instructed to resign by President Jacob Zuma. There was further speculation that Zuma’s axe would also fall on North West Premier Thandi Modise and Eastern Cape Premier Noxolo Kiviet.

But does Zuma, as president of the republic, have the power to fire a premier? A closer look at the functions of premiers shows that Zuma’s real influence over the hiring and firing of premiers lies with the fact that he is president of the ANC, and has much less to do with his role as president of the country.

Can the president fire a premier?

No. The Constitution does not allow him to do so directly. Firstly, a premier is elected by the provincial legislature and is not appointed by the president. A judge, designated by the chief justice, presides over this election. A premier can therefore only be removed by the legislature. This is also why Mathale handed in his resignation to the legislature, and not to the president.

To remove a premier, the provincial legislature must adopt a resolution with a supporting vote of at least two-thirds of its members. And this resolution can only be adopted on the grounds of a) a "serious" violation of the Constitution or the law; b) if the premier is guilty of serious misconduct; c) inability to perform his/her functions of office.

A premier who is removed from office this way cannot receive any benefits of office and cannot hold public office again.

However, in reality, the power to remove or appoint premiers actually lies with the ruling party of that province. The ANC can agitate for such an election, by instructing its members in the provincial legislature to remove a premier via the legislature. The ANC can also instruct a premier to resign as a member of the provincial legislature, and thus be removed as premier. This is what happened with Mathale on Monday.

As the Mail & Guardian reported at the time, at the ANC’s 2007 Polokwane conference, it was decided that the powers to nominate premier candidates should be given to provincial structures of the party. The ANC’s provincial executive committee for that province must then submit three candidates to the national executive committee.

Should the premiers of Limpopo, the Eastern Cape and the North West be fired?

This question is up for interpretation. The ANC may have its own reasons for removing any of these premiers. But in terms of the Constitution, should the legislatures of these provinces choose to remove their premiers, they would have to find them guilty of misconduct, a violation of the law, or an inability to perform their duties.


In Limpopo, Cassel Mathale has been accused of many things, including being disloyal to Zuma and being loyal to Julius Malema. On a strict reading of the Constitution, this would not be a dereliction of his duties as premier.

But here are some examples where his conduct has been interpreted as such:

  • In 2012, five departments in Limpopo were placed under national administration. In march this year, auditor general Terence Nombembe warned that Limpopo’s financial situation was actually regressing in many instances, in spite of Mathale’s assurances that his government was committed to achieving clean audit outcomes.
  • In 2012, Mathale was accused of trying to interfere with an investigation by the department of public service and administration into provincial officials. At the time, the Democratic Alliance sought to bring a motion of no confidence against him in the provincial legislature. But without the support of the provincial ANC caucus in the legislature, such a motion was doomed to fail.
  • amaBhungane reported that Mathale’s close friends and associates allegedly jumped the queue during the sale of several properties, apparently unfairly benefitting thanks to their proximity to Mathale and Limpopo’s political elite. Questions remain about whether or not Mathale himself may have benefitted from any of these deals.

Eastern Cape

In the case of Eastern Cape Premier Noxolo Kiviet, her provincial government has one of the worst records of governance in the country. In particular, its departments of health and education – which eat up over 70% of the province’s budget – are in disarray.

  • Earlier this year, Nombembe called on Kiviet’s government to take full responsibility for the state of that province’s financial disrepair. Only one provincial entity, the Provincial Revenue Fund, received a clean audit result in the last financial year.
  • Not a single municipality in the Eastern Cape received a clean audit for that year, either. Corruption Watch highlighted the province’s poor financial management this year, and warned against its culture of mismanagement and corruption.

North West

North West Premier Thandi Modise was accused of abusing her powers by directly interfering in the awarding of a multimillion-rand tender, allegedly favouring one construction company over the other. She denied the claims.

  • A Special Investigations Unit's investigation into corruption in the province revealed that millions had been diverted from municipalities to politically-connected individuals and fictitious companies. Modise’s office, at the time, claimed this was interwoven with factional ANC politics, and said calls for Modise’s resignation as premier were thanks to a “syndicate” of corrupt people operating in the province.
  • Talk of Modise's ousting has swirled in the province for years. Initially deployed to the North West to stabilise the province, Modise was expected to accommodate new members of the provincial executive committee of the ANC in her government. Her detractors say she did not do this.
  • In 2011, the Mail & Guardian reported that her opponents wanted her removed on these grounds and that her alleged allegiance to the ANC Youth League was damaging her reputation.
  • North West provincial audit outcomes have regressed in the last financial year.

Nombembe called on Modise and her provincial leadership to "set the correct tone" and "take ownership of sound financial and performance management disciplines". His office noted that, due to a lack of improvement in audits in that province, over 90% of the provincial budget was either disclaimed or qualified in the 2011/2012 financial year.