​DA threatens Zuma with legal costs on Gordhan, Jonas battle

Pravin Gordhan and Mcebisi Jonas walk through the crowd during the Occupy Treasury protest at Church Square in Pretoria on March 31 2017. (Hanna Brunlöf)

Pravin Gordhan and Mcebisi Jonas walk through the crowd during the Occupy Treasury protest at Church Square in Pretoria on March 31 2017. (Hanna Brunlöf)

President Jacob Zuma “fails to appreciate the urgency and continued social and political harm” that came from his latest Cabinet reshuffle, the Democratic Alliance said in court papers this week.

If he continues to delay or to refuse to provide the documents explaining why he replaced finance minister Pravin Gordhan and his deputy, Mcebisi Jonas, the opposition party said, it may ask that Zuma be made to pay personally the legal costs that arise from forcing him to do so.

The DA approached the high court in Pretoria in the first week of April to demand, urgently, the “record” of Zuma’s decision to fire Gordhan and Jonas, as the first step in an application to have that decision declared invalid and in effect reversed.

If, as reported, his decision was based on an intelligence report that said Gordhan and Jonas were part of a plot against Zuma, it would mean the report would have to be handed to the court and to the DA. The application “to compel” the production of the record is to be heard on May 2.

The DA now says it was strung along for weeks by a state attorney representing Zuma with promises that the relevant paperwork would be submitted to the court. But on Friday April 21, when several deadlines had already passed, delay suddenly turned into “no”.

State attorney Isaac Chowe said he had finally received “proper instructions” on the matter late last week, according to the DA’s court papers. Zuma will be arguing that firing Gordhan and Jonas “was informed by his political judgment that the reshuffle will best deliver on the mandate the African National Congress received from the majority of the electorate in the last general elections”.

As such, Chowe says, the DA is not entitled to an explanation about the reshuffle, nor the paperwork on which Zuma based his decision.

The DA was not happy.

“The president cannot be allowed to stymie a review of the dismissal decisions simply by refusing to furnish this court and the DA with the record and reasons for his decision,” DA MP James Selfe said in an affidavit lodged with the court earlier this week.

Zuma, the DA’s lawyers said in a separate letter, may be asked to pay legal costs personally “in view of what appears to be his attempts to delay or avoid complying [with] his obligations under the Constitution”.

The DA says all executive power, including the president’s otherwise untrammelled right to choose his Cabinet, must be exercised for a legitimate purpose, on correct facts, and rationally. It is difficult to believe that Zuma’s reshuffle was any of those things, the party says.

“To simultaneously replace the minster of finance and deputy minister of finance is always a drastic step,” Selfe wrote in an earlier affidavit, days after the reshuffle. “To do so now, in the face of the economic challenges facing South Africa and its attempts to maintain economic credibility and investment grade credit ratings is all the more so.”

But the DA is not entitled to urgent relief from the courts, Chowe has said on behalf of Zuma, because damage to the sovereign credit ratings had already been done, and so “the horse has indeed bolted”.

Legal matters involving Zuma are notorious for the delays they accumulate. In 2011, the Supreme Court of Appeal ordered the National Prosecuting Authority to hand the DA a record on its decision not to prosecute Zuma for alleged corruption, including the spy tapes.

Zuma’s legal team fought the matter to a standstill for all of 2012 and 2013. Only in August 2014, with the matter back before the appeal court, did Zuma’s lawyers admit they did not have a valid argument against handing the DA the spy tapes.

Even while he was fighting the release of the spy tapes, Zuma opposed former public protector Thuli Madonsela’s investigation into public spending on his Nkandla home, which was finally released in March 2014.

He then fought against the remedial action that Madonsela directed, saying she had been mistaken in finding that he had unduly benefited from state money, and that he was not obliged to repay it. Nearly two years later, as the matter went before the Constitutional Court, Zuma started to make a series of concessions that ended with him accepting that he was bound by the remedial action Madonsela had ordered, and had to repay the state R7.8-million.

Phillip de Wet

Phillip de Wet

Phillip de Wet writes about politics, society, economics, and the areas where these collide. He has never been anything other than a journalist, though he has been involved in starting new newspapers, magazines and websites, a suspiciously large percentage of which are no longer in business. PGP fingerprint: CF74 7B0F F037 ACB9 779C 902B 793C 8781 4548 D165 Read more from Phillip de Wet

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