Nkandla Judgement

Nkandla fallout: The good, bad, ugly and the dangerous

Nkandla.jpg

The Constitutional Court’s (CC) judgement last week on the Nkandla affair and its fallout has so many implications that it can hardly be summarised otherwise than as a collection of the good, the bad, the ugly and the dangerous – and it is far from over.

Some of these elements were wrapped up in a short, crude, Saturday morning headline in the Daily Maverick newsletter after President Jacob Zuma’s reaction to the judgement, Friday evening on national television: “Zuma shits on the nation”, followed by one that reads “Victory lap for the rule of law”.

The good in this is that it proves that the freedom of the press and of speech is still alive and well in South Africa and that the rule of law as a pillar of our democracy is still firmly in place. The first headline also speaks of the ugly mood among a very large slice of our citizenry.

The news conference of the ruling ANC alliance, following on the president’s TV appearance, made it clear that Mr Zuma will not be removed.

This leaves a substantial part of the citizenry with the feeling that the only option left is to take their dissatisfaction with the present political leadership of the country to the streets – an eventuality fraught with dangers of deep-seated frustration spilling over into violence and clashes between opposing political groups.

Impeachment

The leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), Julius Malema, has already indicated that they might be heading for the streets, saying “South African should unite and, if necessary, take to the streets”.

He has also threatened: “We will stop him physically, we will prevent him (Zuma) from speaking. President Zuma is no longer the president of the Republic of South Africa. We are not going to sit back and allow the continuation of the violation of the constitution.”

While the CC has found that the National Assembly (NA) with its ANC majority also violated the Constitution, the move by the official opposition, the Democratic Alliance, to introduce a motion to impeach the president probably was not the best strategy to follow.

It can only, like their motion of no confidence earlier this year, illustrate their own lack of power and greatly increase the citizenry’s level of cynicism regarding parliament as an institution to hold the executive to account.

It would seem as though Mr Malema and his EFF strategically remain a few steps ahead of the DA – remembering that it was they who initiated the CC case against Mr Zuma and parliament, with the DA only joining the case afterwards.

Elections?

Mr Malema was also the first to call for a general election to replace the present NA with its badly dented image after the CC’s ruling about how the Public Protector’s report on Nkandla was handled.

With a normal majority in the NA an early election can be called. It can, however, only happen after three years of an existing NA has lapsed, which in the present case is only May 2017.

It does, however, open the possibility that the municipal election that has to, as things stand, take place by August of this year, be postponed to take place simultaneously with a general (national) election.

Such synchronisation of elections will take the country out of the situation of almost permanently being in a state of electioneering. It is an idea that has been around for same time.

It might also give the Independent Electoral Commission an opportunity to deal with the dilemma of the lack of formal addresses for all voters as dictated by law and the subject of another case presently before the CC. The case followed on the recent problems during a series of municipal by-elections in the Tlokwe municipality.

At the time of writing we were still waiting for the outcome of a meeting of the ANC’s extended national working committee. It could see the emergence of a scenario built around a single election date for all three levels of government (national, provincial and local) during the first half of next year.

ANC in trouble

An important aspect that largely got lost in the reaction to Mr Zuma’s rationalisation, rather than apology, for what happened at Nkandla and ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe’s media conference, was the latter’s virtual admittance of the deep factional divisions in the organisation.

He admitted that the party dares not get rid of Mr Zuma. “If we remove Zuma, it will tear the ANC apart,” he said.

By both Mr Zuma and the ANC, however, declaring that they fully accept all eleven orders of the CC judgement, they will find it difficult to avoid raising the ire of some of these factions.

One of those orders, for instance, states: “The President must reprimand the Ministers involved pursuant to paragraph 11.1.3 of the Public Protector’s remedial action.” How does he and/or the party act against those who were, probably under his own expressed wishes/instructions, acting in protection of him, without getting some noses badly out of joint?

And then, almost as if Nelson Mandela himself is speaking from beyond the grave, Ahmed Kathrada has since in an open letter called on Zuma to step down.

Another crisis

In the meantime, another, and potentially even more damaging, crisis around the person of Mr Zuma is building up to a crescendo – the extent to which state capture by especially the Gupta family took place during his watch, going back to his days as deputy president.

This issue is fast proving to be even more divisive to the ANC-led governing alliance and could see the alliance finally breaking up – something that sees the phenomenon of ‘alliance politics’ being replaced with healthier coalition politics in line with the spirit of the constitution.

Against this background an early general election might not be a bad outcome for the country in the medium to long term. However, judged by all the side shows and battles accompanying the Gupta issue – including the political meddling of state security apparatus – it will not pass without some times of high volatility.

Conclusion

As shown with the strong firming of the rand on Friday – probably on the mistaken assumption that Mr Zuma was about to vacate the political scene – there is still hope that South Africa and its democracy can emerge from its present crisis stronger than before.

However, if not very carefully managed by those presently holding the real power – the top leadership of the ANC – the results can also be devastating and South Africa can slip into a full-blown revolution.

by Piet Coetzer

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