The North Gauteng High Court has ordered South African president Jacob Zuma to provide reasons for firing former finance minister Pravin Gordhan and his deputy, following an urgent application made by the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA).
Judge Bashir Vally sided with the DA on the matter, saying that the documentation should be provided within 5 court days and that Zuma must pay the DA’s legal costs.
The DA said it was elated by the ruling as it augured well for its main application to have Zuma’s decision set aside on the basis that it was irrational and therefore unlawful.
The party’s federal executive chairman‚ James Selfe‚ said he was not sure what Zuma’s next move would be under these circumstances.
“The important thing is that whatever reasons he provides he will be held to it in the subsequent review application. At this stage, he simply says it was a political decision and we are going to test that political decision on the rationality of it and the effect it had on the country‚” he said.
Two rating agencies have already downgraded the country to junk status following the removal of Gordhan as Finance Minister.
The presidency insists that it is under no obligation to explain the move, as it is the president’s prerogative to choose his cabinet.
Zuma’s legal representatives argued that the DA was seeking an order based on an administrative decision, which is required to be rational, but the president’s reshuffle was an executive decision, which does not carry the same requirements.
Reported reasons for the reshuffle
During the fallout of the reshuffle, it was reported that an “intelligence report” was used by Zuma to justify Gordhan’s removal.
The report was said to contain information showing that Gordhan and Jonas were meeting with international parties in a bid to overthrow the state. The report has never been produced, not even to state security officials.
While court proceedings were underway, President Zuma told delegates at the World Economic Forum being held in Durban, that the reshuffle was to make room for younger people to have a role in government – the same reason he had advanced in his broadcast on the move.
Victory or Bias?
Whereas opposition parties, especially the Democratic Alliance (DA), see the judgment as a victory for the country, constitutional experts say the judgment is an infraction on the executive powers of the president and a display of ignorance of the law.
Nigerian legal expert Nwora Okonkwo questioned the premise of the judgment:
“Are they saying that the president does not have constitutional authority to make such announcement? If that’s what they are saying then they are making a mockery and exhibiting a high level of ignorance. That’s why you have what is called a biased judgment which can be challenged,” Nwora said.
“If you go to Chapter 5 of the constitution, and if you look at 92(1), he has the mandate to do that. So, I don’t understand the foot they are standing on,” he added.
Botsang Moloia, another lawyer, spoke to ANN7 TV in the same vein:
“It is actually a slap in the face of South African people who are relying on this constitution to be governed and treated properly. There’s nothing like saying the DA is going to use the so-called intelligence report. It’s not gonna fly. The president never cited that report,” Moloia said.
For political analyst Sifiso Mahlangu, the decision is a mockery of the office of the president. According to Moloia, “What the court has said is that the office of the president of South Africa has become a ceremonial office. President Jacob Zuma is just a ceremonial president if he cannot exercise his constitutional right to change his cabinet. What this means by implication is that the President is reporting to the opposition,” Moloia said.