The top six leaders of the ANC were expected to meet urgently to discuss the party’s next steps after the Constitutional Court delivered a devastating blow to President Jacob Zuma on Thursday.
But within hours of the judgment being delivered, parts of the ruling party were already furiously defending Zuma.
Reacting to the opposition’s plans to take to the streets to force Zuma to step down, ANC KwaZulu-Natal chairperson Sihle Zikalala came out swinging. “You [opposition parties] can’t intimidate us about the streets. We have been on the streets. We can mobilise our masses to go on the streets,” he said. “Our [ANC] support is solid. If they want to test that, they must do so. Nobody must intimidate us as if they have the masses. The masses know the ANC.”
The ANC Youth League also rejected growing calls from opposition parties – and, more discreetly, by some leaders in the ANC – for Zuma to resign. Despite the court ruling that Zuma had acted inconsistently with his presidential duty to uphold the Constitution, youth league secretary general Njabulo Nzuza said the league still had full confidence in Zuma’s leadership.
He labelled opposition parties “CIA agents” who were out to topple the Zuma-led government.
“We don’t think the president must resign. There is no necessity for him to resign because he said [a] long time [ago] that he was willing to pay back the money,” said Nzuza.
“If they [the Democratic Alliance and the Economic Freedom Fighters] want to mobilise the people [against Zuma], it will confirm they are part of CIA agents. They must not organise marches that are useless,” said Nzuza.
Public protector Thuli Madonsela was also accused of being a CIA agent following her Nkandla findings.
Pressed to explain, Nzuzo appeared to change his tune. “I am saying they are part of the [push for] regime change. I am not saying they are CIA. They are working closely with the CIA. They are working with the regime change forces,” said Nzuza.
The youth league’s mother body was more circumspect, with ANC spokesperson Zizi Kodwa saying the party respected the court’s unanimous judgment.
“The Constitutional Court is, and remains, the guardian of the Constitution of the republic and the final arbiter on matters before it, hence the ANC welcomes the clarity provided by the court on the binding nature of the powers of the public protector. The ANC once again reaffirms our full confidence in the judiciary and the upholding of the rule of law in South Africa. Given the serious nature of the judgment delivered, the ANC will study it in detail and comment further in due course,” said Kodwa.
The South African Communist Party and labour federation Cosatu, which have at times been at odds with Zuma’s administration, said they could only respond comprehensively to the judgment after they have studied it.
Delivering the judgment, Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng said that by failing to comply with the public protector’s recommendations to repay a portion of the money spent on security upgrades to his home, Zuma had failed to uphold, defend and respect the Constitution as the supreme law of the land.
“This failure is manifest from the substantial disregard for the remedial action taken against him by the public protector in terms of her constitutional powers … He was duty-bound to, but did not, assist and protect the public protector so as to ensure her independence, impartiality, dignity and effectiveness by complying with her remedial action.”
The judges were also scathing of the National Assembly’s decision to absolve Zuma of blame in the Nkandla matter.
Newly appointed ANC parliamentary chief whip Jackson Mthembu described the judgment as a “watershed”. He said the ANC welcomed the invalidation of the recommendation by Parliament’s ad hoc committee on Nkandla that Zuma was not liable to pay back some of the money.
He would make sure that ANC MPs act constitutionally, he said, adding that he was happy there was clarity regarding the binding nature of the public protector’s remedial action.
“We [should] respect all the arms of state, including our courts. Nobody will speak negatively on this judgment. We need to look at how we got here and talk to our principals [at Luthuli House] as well, so that what we do is on the same wavelength with them,” said Mthembu.
Zuma’s big mistake: Keeping it political
In fighting the findings that he owed the state money for work at his Nkandla home, President Jacob Zuma turned to his Cabinet ministers, a specially constituted task team, the Special Investigating Unit, and Parliament. But he never went to the courts – and therein lay his mistake. If Zuma did not wish to comply with public protector Thuli Madonsela’s findings on Nkandla, it is the courts he should have turned to, the Constitutional Court said on Thursday.
Likewise the National Assembly should never have tried to effectively take the law into its own hands in nullifying Madonsela’s findings on Nkandla, and so “usurping the authority vested only in the judiciary”.
But both, the Concourt said in its unanimous judgment, may have been mistaken rather than malicious – not that it matters in law.
“Like the president, the National Assembly may, relying for example on [a subsequently overturned high court decision on Madonsela’s findings about the SABC] have been genuinely led to believe that it was entitled to second-guess the remedial action through its resolution absolving the president of liability,” Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng said in the unanimous judgment. “But, that still does not affect the unlawfulness of its preferred course of action.”
Nor did the Concourt have any trouble with the idea that Zuma or the National Assembly would fight Madonsela. “In principle there is nothing wrong with wondering whether any unpleasant finding or outcome is correct and deploying all the resources at one’s command to test its correctness,” the court said. Not even if the purpose in fighting back was, say, political; some sort of scrutiny could be fine “regardless of its intended end-use”. – Phillip de Wet