It's been a bad week for Team Zuma.
Yes, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has returned from her African sojourn as commissioner of the African Commission to rally the troops and kick her election campaign into full gear, but that's about where it ended.
The build-up to Friday's constitutional crescendo started on Monday when Minister of Social Development Bathabile Dlamini failed to meet the deadline set by the Constitutional Court to lodge papers – and it all went south from there.
By the time the week wound down, the country's executive – led by Zuma, who sets the example for his ministers – was sharply repudiated by the judicial branch not once, but twice in one day. Added to that, Zuma suffered an internal defeat when a factional appointment within local structures of the African National Congress (ANC) was overturned by the party leadership – which officially included him.
1. The adults are back in charge
The Constitutional Court's scathing judgment of Dlamini's management of the social grants debauchery, cutting away at her protestations like a carving knife does the excess fat on a leg of lamb, is a damning indictment of both Dlamini and Zuma. Dlamini because she simply neglected to discharge her constitutional obligations and Zuma because he (unsurprisingly, it must be said) simply laughs it off ("There is no crisis . . !")
It is shameful that the court – who is very aware of the dangers of the judiciary impeding on the terrain of the executive – has to place the institutions administering the payment of social grants under administration. The blame for this falls squarely at the feet of Dlamini, the court said, as the executive authority.
Justice Johan Froneman tore into Dlamini and said:
- "There is no indication in the papers that she showed interest . . ."
- "Despite repeated warnings . . . the minister (didn't) take any steps to inform the court of problems . . ."
- "To make matters worse, the minister did not deign to inform the court of these developments . . ."
- "Until forced to reply to this court's directions, there has been no reciprocal comity from the minister . . ."
- "The sole reason for the litigation leading to this judgment is the failure of the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) and the minister to keep their promise to this court and the people of South Africa."
- "There is no indication in the papers that she showed any interest in Sassa's progress . . ."
- " . . . not much has changed, except that this time around the minister may have contributed to the continued recalsitrance."
- "Attempts to obtain evidence of what steps she took . . . to ensure that beneficiaries would continue to be well catered for drew a blank."
- "It is the minister who is required in terms of the Constitution to account to Parliament. That is the minister and the minister alone."
No crisis, Mr. President?
2. Yes, Berning Ntlemeza is unfit to be head of the Hawks
Mthandazo Berning Ntlemeza has been head of the Hawks since 2015 – and he's been at the centre of almost all the political drama since, including as a leader in the assault on Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan.
In a stunning defeat for Police Minister Nathi Nhleko – a commander in Zuma's praetorian guard – the High Court in Pretoria reviewed and set aside Ntlemeza's appointment, with the court finding that he is not fit to serve as head of the Hawks. Nhleko appointed Ntlemeza.
The judgment echoes one of Zuma's biggest setbacks as head of state: the reversal of the appointment of Menzi Simelane as national director of public prosecutions in 2012, who was also found to be unfit.
This time around the court found that the panel considering Ntlemeza's appointment did not have all the information needed to make an informed decision and that Nhleko failed to provide it to them.
This related specifically to a court judgment which found Ntlemeza is "dishonest and lacking integrity and honour, he made false statements under oath".
As with the judgment by the Constitutional Court, the High Court was firm in its sanction of the executive: "The minister simply brushed aside a considered opinion of a superior court. The question here is not one of discretion, but whether the person who has been described by such judicial pronouncement can be appointed in the face of such pronouncements. This was a quintessential example of the minister completely ignoring and brushing aside remarks by a court."
Of course this was not the first time in recent memory that the executive "brushed aside the court", with the government simply ignoring an order of the same North Gauteng High Court to arrest Sudan's Mohammad al-Bashir.
There will surely be an appeal, but one of the president's strongmen is now on notice.
3. Andile Lungisa: out, in, out
Zuma gave Lungisa – who was charged with fraud for his role in the misappropriating of funds at the National Youth Development Agency – his vocal and public support to take over the position of the ANC in Nelson Mandela Bay, with a brief to disrupt and dislodge the Democratic Alliance-led council. The head of state even flew down to Port Elizabeth to lend his support.
Lungisa simply ignored an order by Gwede Mantashe, the ANC's secretary-general, that he may not in terms of the party's constitution stand for the position because he was elected onto the provincial executive. Mantashe was furious and charged Lungisa for insubordination.
Mantashe prevailed and Lungisa's election was subsequently overturned on Friday after an intervention by the ANC's top six leadership – which included Zuma.
This of course means he was overruled by his colleagues: Mantashe, Zweli Mkhize, Cyril Ramaphosa, Jessie Duarte and Baleka Mbete. Or maybe just four of them . . .
"Derailed" was the title of the public protector's investigation into allegations of large-scale looting and corruption at the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa), and if we thought the organisation was heading for crash earlier, things are even more dire now.
The Prasa board was dismissed last week by Transport Minister Dipuo Peters – this week the axed members, led by Popo Molefe, brought an urgent application in the High Court in Pretoria to set the dissolution of the board aside.
Peters went full tilt at Molefe and co, accusing them of deepening the malaise Prasa found itself in.
But Molefe and the board contended in court papers that the only reason why they were dismissed was to stymie investigations into fraud and corruption and protect the high-flying and amply remunerated Collins Letsoalo, who Peters parachuted in as acting chief executive.
On Friday the court reserved judgment after hearing that the board was about to institute legal proceedings against Ntlemeza's Hawks because they have failed to act on 39 complaints of fraud and corruption made by Prasa. The board was dismissed before the legal action could commence.
Prasa is a big, big can of worms with lots of connected names inside. And now it's in the clutches of the court.
5. Tony Yengni
Yengeni, a staunch Zuma supporter and cheerleader, member of the ANC's national executive committee and head of political education, was found guilty of drunk driving in Cape Town on Friday.
And lest we forget: Yengeni was the most senior ANC leader who served time for dubious dealings related to the arms deal scandal in the early 2000's. Zuma, of course, was implicated in the Schabir Shaik trial.
Right, so it's not in the same league as the other developments, but still, it does cap off a dismal week for Zuma.