South Africa’s official opposition in parliament, the Democratic Alliance (DA), has decided to put its proposed vote of no confidence in President Jacob Zuma on the back burner for now. In the context of legal issues confronting the president, the opposition’s decision is not necessarily good news, but rather an early sign of a political storm building around his position.
After initially attempting to stifle the motion introduced late in the final parliamentary session of 2012 by DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko on behalf of eight of parliament’s 11 political parties, the ruling African National Congress agreed to a debate on 26 February this year. The ANC turnaround on the issue came after the opposition parties approached the Constitutional Court (CC) to force a debate.
The CC indicated that it is not for the court to dictate the programme of parliament, but will pronounce (26 March) on the right of the opposition to call for such a debate.
Mazibuko has announced that they will not table the motion for discussion on 26 February, saying, “I'm certainly not going to entertain the ANCs attempt at giving us permission to do our job, which is essentially what Dr [Mathole] Motshekga (the ANC chief whip) was doing [by] saying 'Oh it's okay, you can have the debate in February; we will let you.'"
It is, however, possible that the rules of parliament were not uppermost in the opposition’s mind when making the decision to consider its options after the CCs ruling. They might now wait for the outcome of another court application by the DA, which could leave president Zuma in a much weaker position to defend himself.
The DA launched a renewed attempt to obtain the so-called spy tapes that led to the withdrawal of Zuma’s corruption charges nine years ago.
In March last year the Supreme Court of Appeal ruled that the DA could challenge the dropping of the charges and ordered the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) to file a record of all the material relating to the decision.
So far the NPA has refused to release the tapes they used in Zuma’s case to the DA, despite the order by the Supreme Court of Appeal.
The North Gauteng High Court will now have to decide whether the NPA has to hand over the tapes.
Constitutional expert Prof. Pierre de Vos in a recent article argued that “in the absence of the recordings and transcripts supposedly independently provided to the NPA by the National Intelligence Agency, the court will almost certainly find that the original decision to drop charges against Zuma was unlawful. This would resurrect the charges and President Zuma would once again stand accused of fraud and corruption”.
President Zuma will then have to stand trial. Under such circumstances he would find it difficult to continue with his normal duties as head of state, never mind defending himself against a parliamentary motion of no confidence.
Apart from the spy tape saga, there are also the ongoing probe by Public Protector Thuli Madonsela into the upgrades at the president's private residence at Nkandla and the outcome of the commission of lnquiry into the arms deal.
The fact that the minister of public works at the time, personally informed Zuma on the extent and progress of the Nkandla project could mean Madonsela needs to interview the president.
Judge Willie Seriti’s arms deal commission starts its public hearings in March. Although president Zuma is not on the initial list of 12 witnesses, it is widely expected that his name and role will surface during the course of the commission’s work. Especially the relationship between him and his then financial adviser Schabir Schaik as well as some of the arms suppliers are likely to come under close scrutiny.
At least president Zuma’s lawyers are likely to be looking forward to a lucrative year. For the president, the ANC and the country it might, however, become a very restless year on the political front.