Concourt ruling: ANC reaction to show if SA’s moral compass owned by Zuptas

Future historians will look back on today as a watershed moment for South Africa’s young democracy. It is likely to pit politics against the judiciary; the base motives of greed and self-preservation against a national striving for higher ideals. Today we should get the clearest indication yet whether South Africa is on its way to joining a long list of failed African states, or whether its ruling politicians truly do serve the interests of the nation. The Constitutional Court will rule whether the country’s President, Jacob Zuma, did indeed break his oath of office when responding to criticism over R246m of taxpayer money spent on his private residence. His own senior counsel admitted in court that if Zuma is found guilty, the offence is impeachable. As the Reuters story below avers, consensus opinion is that should this verdict be delivered, the ANC will stand by its leader. If that happens. then the country is in deeper trouble than pessimists imagined. As the Huffington Post reminded us in today’s expose of Unaoil, Arab Spring was sparked by a single Tunisian fruit vendor who’d had enough of corruption. After being forced to pay one too many bribes to the police, Mohamed Bouazizi made the ultimate protest by setting himself of fire, triggering the world’s biggest political upheaval in over a century. The EFF, in particular, has fearlessly chronicled corruption allegations against Zuma and his suddenly super rich “business” associates, the Gupta family. As the conspiracy of silence ends and the truth emerges, public consciousness moves ever closer to a situation where a local Bouazizi would create a similar chain reaction. As mentioned many times before, our belief is the ANC always does the right thing in the end. And will do so again now, avoiding the chaos that comes ever nearer. Sadly, that is very much the minority view right now. – Alec Hogg

By Ed Cropley

JOHANNESBURG, March 31 (Reuters) – South Africa’s top court rules on Thursday on whether President Jacob Zuma must repay the state some of $16 million spent upgrading his private home, a judgement that could hit the scandal-plagued leader politically as well as financially.

Constitutional Court of South Africa entrance
Constitutional Court of South Africa entrance

In the latest twist to a six-year saga over his sprawling Nkandla residence, the Constitutional Court must decide whether the findings of Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, a constitutionally mandated anti-graft watchdog, are binding.

If it says they are – and signs point in that direction – Zuma faces a bill that could run into millions of rand, and more heat from members of his African National Congress (ANC) who fear his tarnished record will hurt the party in mid-year provincial elections.

After a string of scandals during his seven years in office, from Nkandla to claims over a love-child he has denied fathering, Zuma has been under intense pressure since December when his abrupt firing of finance minister Nhlanhla Nene sent the rand into a tail-spin.

In a surprising move last month, Zuma offered to pay back some of the money spent on Nkandla.

His lawyer, Jeremy Gauntlett, then admitted to the Constitutional Court that their Nkandla defence — based on the contention that all the improvements were security-related — had been wrong and that Madonsela’s findings were binding, making it unlikely Zuma will win a ruling in his favour.

The ANC’s majority in parliament will almost certainly give political cover from any opposition attempt to impeach Zuma, but a large construction bill could trigger more cries of financial impropriety, stoking opposition within the ruling party.

“It doesn’t lead to impeachment but it does lead to the president having to come up with the money, which I think he probably can do given the kind of accumulation of wealth of his family and friends,” said independent political analyst Nic Borain.

“But that is going to raise the question of how has he managed to come up with that money.”

As president, Zuma’s annual salary is 2.7 million rand. If any payment were made on his behalf, they would be liable for income tax at 41 percent.

“FIRE POOL”

nkandla-homestead_slider
President Jacob Zuma’s private residence, Nkandla.

Madonsela’s 2014 report on the Nkandla upgrades made clear Zuma should pay for anything not security-related, in particular a cattle enclosure, amphitheatre, visitor centre, chicken run and swimming pool.

Zuma refused to comply, ordering parallel investigations by the public works and police ministries that largely exonerated him, based on declarations that included calling the swimming pool a fire-fighting reservoir.

Gauntlett’s volte-face before the court in February also included an admission that the police minister’s report was meaningless, and a plea to the judges not to stray too far into politics in case it gave political ammunition to the opposition.

“This is a delicate time in a dangerous year,” Gauntlett told the court. “It will be wrong if this court makes a ruling which may result in a call for impeachment.”

In her report, Madonsela said the Treasury and police should work out the “reasonable cost” of the final cost of the five items she deemed non-essential.

Citing Public Works Department documents, she cited estimated costs of 2.8 million rand ($187,000) for a swimming pool and parking garage for VIP guests, and 1.2 million rand for a ‘cattle culvert’.

***

Johannesburg – A little more than a month after the Constitutional Court heard arguments in the EFF and DA’s application for an order that President Jacob Zuma repay some of the R246 million spent on his Nkandla home, the court is ready to hand down judgment.

Thursday’s judgment is expected to have a number of facets to it.

The EFF and the DA wanted Zuma to pay back a portion of the money spent on non-security upgrades to his homestead.

A few days before the hearing in February, Zuma sent a letter to the court’s registrar to suggest that it order the Auditor General and finance minister to determine how much he should repay for non-security features at Nkandla.

The Constitutional Court was expected to make a final order on this.

The opposition parties wanted the court to rule on whether Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s remedial action, set out in her March 2014 report, Secure in Comfort, was binding.

Ambit of Public Protector’s powers

During the hearing on February 9, Madonsela’s lawyer argued about the nature and ambit of her powers and the legal effect of her remedial action.

Madonsela stood by the remedial action set out in her report. But she agreed it was no longer appropriate for the police to help determine the reasonable costs of non-security features.

Jeremy Gauntlett, for Zuma, argued that the Nkandla saga had “traumatised the nation”, which was why he had made his proposal regarding the Auditor General and the Treasury.

He claimed the Public Protector Act was a “statutory curiosity” because it did not elaborate what had to be done regarding remedial action.

Zuma accepted that Madonsela wanted certain things done, but differed on how these had to be done, he added.

Parliament took ‘wrong position’

Gauntlett put the blame for the fiasco squarely on the shoulders of the Department of Public Works and said Police Minister Nathi Nhleko’s report meant nothing. Nhleko, in his report, found all the features built at Nkandla were security-related and Zuma was thus not liable to pay for any of them.

The EFF wanted the Constitutional Court to find that Zuma breached his oath of office and constitutional duties by ignoring the Public Protector’s remedial action.

Gauntlett argued it was a “dangerous year” and warned that if the Constitutional Court ruled that Zuma did breach his oath of office, opposition parties could use it to have him impeached.

Wim Trengove, for the EFF, said the National Assembly violated its constitutional obligations by not holding the president and Cabinet to account.

The judges asked Speaker Baleka Mbete’s lawyer, Lindi Nkosi-Thomas, if the National Assembly had erred in its approach to Madonsela’s remedial action.

“Parliament took a wrong position,” she conceded. – News24

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