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President Jacob Zuma Exercised His Constitutional Prerogative When He Dismissed Ministers

To rob the President of his ability to exercise his rights and prerogative should not be seen as setting a precedent to usurp the Constitution.

06/04/2017 14:25 SAST | Updated 06/04/2017 14:25 SAST
Gallo Images / The Times / Esa Alexander
Faith Muthambi

If anyone doubted that the African National Congress (ANC) alliance is in a political and ideological crisis, then the last three days must have laid that uncertainty to rest. It could be argued that the crisis was long coming. In a strange twist of fate, this crisis was foretold by none other than both President Zuma himself and the Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe.

In his closing address of the 2014 National General Council President Zuma reminded delegates that inasmuch constructive criticism is sine quo non for growth, alliance partners need to appreciate that they represent different constituencies with different interests. Accordingly, the South African Communist Party (SACP) must accept that the ANC is not SACP. The same applies to the Congress of the South African Trade Unions (Cosatu). The ANC is a multiclass organisation with a responsibility to build a united, non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous society. COSATU's focus is in promoting working class interests. The SACP on the other hand considers "the national democratic phase as the most direct route of advance, in our particular conditions, to a second stage, socialist development."

President Zuma went further to indicate that it is foreseeable that once the ANC has reached its destination, it will bid goodbye to the ANC, wishing it well as it goes on with its socialist programme.

Earlier in his 2012 Secretary General's Report Gwede Mantashe also raised a matter of political discipline. He observed:

"It is more harmful when intellectuals of the movement, who are the product of the investment of the ANC, criticise the movement as outsiders. We must emphasise that there is more value derived from intellectual engagement within the structures of the ANC than contesting each other in public. This is distinct from participating in the battle of ideas and therefore enriching the debates in the public discourse. ANC cadres must avoid at all instances hurting and bleeding the ANC. The NEC is obliged to own-up to both our failures and successes."

Whereas President Zuma's gaze was in the distant future, the parting of ways seems to have been accelerated by the SACP's crass opportunism and the political grandstanding that now defines its character.

The party couldn't be satisfied with the cowardly hijacking of the Ahmed Kathrada's funeral by its General Secretary Blade Nzimande to cast aspersions at the objects of their hatred, President Zuma, the ANC and the Gupta family. Emboldened by the applause it received from the anti-Zuma brigade, the SACP decided to sink to the bottom.

The abuse of Ahmed Kathrada's funeral was a dress rehearsal for the press conference that it had planned the following day. The party did the unforgivable act by divulging confidential discussion between itself and the Head of State. The party had always complained that as a member of the alliance, it needs to be consulted whenever President Zuma exercise his constitutionally entrusted powers of appointing cabinet members. Under the pretext of encouraging openness it breached not only the trust between itself and the Head of State but also with the ANC.

When the dust is settled, as it will certainly do, the message is unmistakable, the SACP cannot be trusted with any sensitive information.

With the latest petulant act, the SACP has thrown caution to the wind. The alliance is virtually dead. Ironically this provides the SACP an ideal opportunity to carry out the threat that it has always made every time it holds a press conference. Interestingly, the SACP claims to protect the ANC from being taken over by parasites. Yet many argue that the description parasite aptly applies to it. Its bark is not matched by substantial support hence the reluctance to go it alone.

In trying to discipline the President to its wishes, the SACP seems to have forgotten that we are governed by the rule of law and not by the whims and caprice of the Alliance, hence we have a Constitution, as the supreme law of the Land.

The uproar about thed dismissal of Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan is fuelled by self-serving partisan agendas of those who choose to ignore the Constitution when it suits them.

The uproar about the dismissal of Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan is fuelled by self-serving partisan agendas of those who choose to ignore the Constitution when it suits them. The President's powers under the Constitution are broad and include those "necessary to perform the functions of Head of State and head of the national executive." If a Minister's actions impede the functions of the President as Head of State and head of the national executive or render the President unable to exercise his powers, then the Minister may be removed from office for his actions.

The South African Constitution is very clear that the President does not have to consult anyone in appointing his team. There is therefore no breach of the supreme law of the country. The workings of the party on the other hand are dictated by the Constitution of the ANC and its conference resolutions. In this regard, the Conference resolution is crystal clear. It imposes a duty to consult. But this consultation does not require concurrence. Consultation is meant enrich the decision.

Section 91 (2) of the Constitution provides that the "President appoints the Deputy President and Ministers, assigns their powers and functions, and may dismiss them. No Minister, no matter how popular, has the power to undermine the President's authority as Head of the Cabinet and no Minister has the power to act in a manner inconsistent with the directions of the President who "assigns their powers and functions." A Minister who disobeys the President can be dismissed.

For a party that claims to be inspired by Marxism it seems unconcerned that the so-called markets have conspired to undermine the constitutional powers of a democratically elected Head of State. Dispassionate observers are correct to suggest that the SACP has transformed itself to the South African Capitalist Party. With its foolish act, by daring the President Zuma to act has left the President and the ANC with no option but to protect the sovereignty and constitutionally endowed powers in the Presidency. Time will tell whether the anti-Zuma grouping will carry out the threat of resigning en masse.

The irresponsible action of the SACP seems to have been deliberately choreographed to hastily trigger actions by both the Democratic Alliance and the Economic Freedom Front. Indeed, the opportunistic DA which has invested millions in the political persecution of President Zuma did not waste time. It tabled a motion of no confidence. The EFF on the other hand approached the Constitutional Court hoping that the highest court will compel parliament to impeach the President. A confident Julius Malema reportedly intimated that EFF can count on 80 ANC members who will be prepared to join the opposition in its umpteenth attempt to remove President Zuma.

The current development is a self-created crisis driven by forces that seek to destroy the very liberation Movement. These forces use money, such as undeclared shares in their companies and in their banks, and give to ministers of state to achieve their objectives of slowing down the rate and pace of change.

Democracy does not inoculate us from the vicissitudes, the caprice and the whims of those who are power hungry.

The crisis is both revelatory and transformative. It shows us who are really and truly democrats, and those who are not. Democracy does not inoculate us from the vicissitudes, the caprice and the whims of those who are power hungry. Navigating the cascades of the Alliance politics, one inevitably comes across the monstrously power hungry and maliciously ambitious. In their quest for power, they will abuse democracy to reach their objectives.

To rob the President of his ability to exercise his rights and prerogative in terms of Sec 91(2), should not be seen as mere point short term point scoring, but as setting a precedent to usurp the Constitution. It will be historical in its consequences, as history is more than a path left by the past, but it also influences the present to shape the future.

We have arrived at a pivotal stage as a nation, and we should not allow demagogues to usurp the Constitution. We admit that in the making and re-making of a nation, it will be pulled this way and that way, but we must be vigilant against those who use the name of the masses to force a legitimate President to step down. In acting the way he did, President Zuma has not only exercised rights bestowed to him by the constitution, he has also defended our sovereignty from being hijacked by external forces.

In the final analysis, "the NWC has accepted the irretrievable breakdown of the relationship between the President and a member of his Cabinet as sufficient explanation for the decision taken by the President."

The ANC went further to indicate that the process of appointing and removing its leadership must be guarded jealously. It is not a responsibility that can be delegated to outside forces.