Political Watch

Courts to dominate political scene in November

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The month of November is shaping up to become a proverbial bloody battlefield, determining the political future of President Jacob Zuma and that of the country.

It will also have a profound influence on the main players who have been dominating the public stage in recent times. One of the cases has the potential to wipe out the integrity of the Medium-term Budget Policy Statement (MTBPS) by Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan.

State capture report

The November drama season kicks off on the very first day of the month, next week Tuesday, when the new Public Protector (PP), Busisiwe Mkhwebane, is set to join President Zuma on centre stage, with the controversial Gupta family in an important supporting role.

On that day the hearing of President Zuma’s application for an interdict to postpone the previous PP’s report on state capture will start. If granted, it will largely let PP Mkhwebane off the hook, relieving her of the obligation to make a call about the timing of the release.

It will, however, trigger a number of sideshows:

  • It can, with a high level of confidence, be predicted that the opposition parties and some civil society organisations will appeal such a judgement; and
  • It will lend momentum to another sideshow that has to some extent already started – the leaking to the media of part of the report, such as some of the affidavits lodged with the PP during her investigation.

If the interdict is denied, it immediately puts PP Mkhwebane on the spot, requiring her to make a call about its release and, one way or another, is likely to bring her in conflict with elements/factions in the ruling African National Congress, or most of the opposition parties and some NGOs.

If she does release the report and it, as is widely anticipated, reflects negatively on Mr Zuma and his friends the Guptas, it will trigger some dramas of its own:

  • Most important of these is that it is likely to lead to intensification of the raging internal ANC factional battles, especially around the position of Mr Zuma as leader of the party; and
  • The Gupta family has already indicated that they intend tying up the report for “at least two years” by challenging it and having it under review. This will, however, do nothing to stop the report from being leaked.

Gordhan charges

The case that will have the more immediate and profound effect on South Africa’s political and economic future comes the next day, 2 November, when Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan is due to appear in court on fraud charges.

There is fairly widespread speculation that the case will be thrown out of court right away. But it might also proceed. Again, whatever happens will trigger dramas of its own.

The NGOs, Freedom Under Law (FUL) and the Helen Suzman Foundation (HSF), also served an urgent application last Sunday to have the criminal charges against Minister Pravin Gordhan set aside.

Firstly, if the case does go ahead, the likelihood is high that President Zuma will relieve Mr Gordhan of his duties as minister, arguing that he could not be expected to fulfil his duties while tied up in a court case. This would have been in line with international best practice, should one ignore the controversial circumstances under which the charges were brought against Mr Gordhan.

But, and more importantly, the immediate effect would be that whatever projections and commitments were given by Mr Gordhan in his MTBPS will become almost null and void. They will carry very little weight in the market as well as with potential investors.

A sovereign credit downgrade to junk status by international agencies, starting late in November and early December, will become almost certain.

If the charges are thrown out of court, the position of the head of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), Shaun Abrahams, will become untenable and likely to become even more entangled with the issue of state capture.

More to come

November’s season of court dramas does not end with the state capture and Gordhan charges.

Still outstanding, are President Zuma and the NPA’s appeal against an earlier court decision that the reinstatement of some 728 charges against the president should be considered. A date still needs to be set for the appeal to be considered, pending the filing of papers by the two parties.

Then there is Mr Gordhan’s request to the court to make a ruling that he is not mandated to interfere with the major banks’ decision to stop doing business with the Gupta family’s flagship company, Oakbay Investments. Oakbay and other interested parties have time until 4 November to file dissenting papers.

What has attracted less attention is yet another court case President Zuma might face after 28 October. The Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution demanded that he sign the Financial Intelligence Centre Amendment Bill by then or return it to the National Assembly, failing which the organisation plans to take him to court.

Finally the present countrywide student unrest is set to deliver its own harvest of criminal and civil cases to the courts.

Indeed, a packed season of court drama is awaiting South Africa in November.

by Piet Coetzer

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