The Democratic Alliance has won the first round of its legal battle to set aside President Jacob Zuma’s decision to fire former finance minister Pravin Gordhan when the High Court in Pretoria gave the president five days to provide the records and reasons for his decisions.
Judge Bashier Vally yesterday ordered the president to provide the opposition party with all documents and electronic records – including correspondence, contracts, memoranda, advices, recommendations, evaluations and reports relating to his decision – as well as his reasons for firing Gordhan and his deputy, Mcebisi Jonas.
The DA launched an urgent application to compel Zuma to provide the information in anticipation of its review application to set aside the decision to oust Gordhan and Jonas and replace them with Malusi Gigaba and Sfiso Buthelezi on the basis that it was irrational.
The DA’s federal executive chairperson James Selfe said he would expect a so-called intelligence report (allegedly implicating Gordhan and Jonas in plotting against Zuma) to form part of the record as it was “common knowledge” that such a report had in fact played a role in the decision.
Several top-ranking ANC and SACP members have questioned the veracity of the report and Gordhan himself has referred to it as the “unintelligent intelligence report”.
Selfe was not sure if Zuma could be compelled to reveal the source of the report or what he intended to do about it, but said the important thing was that the president would be held to whatever reasons he provided in the upcoming review application.
“So if he simply says that this was a political decision, we are going to test that decision on the rationality of it and the effect it had on the country.
“He had best come with better reasons than that,” he said.
Selfe said they hoped the court would assist in ensuring that the review was heard on an urgent basis as there was more damage to the economy with every passing day.
Two of the world’s main credit ratings agencies have already downgraded South Africa to junk status, following Zuma’s March 31 midnight Cabinet reshuffle.
A third, Moody’s, would make up its mind whether to downgrade the country next month. Selfe said given that Gordhan no longer wanted the position, the DA hoped the court case would force Zuma in future to take decisions on the composition of his Cabinet that actually fulfilled the oath of office he took: to promote the interests of all South Africans.
“Clearly, his decision to appoint Gibaba and the consequences of that was certainly not in the best interests of the nine million South Africans that are unemployed in this country.
“That is likely to get many, many more unemployed people through the recklessness of this Cabinet reshuffle,” he said.
Hours before Vally handed down his order, Zuma told the World Economic Forum in Durban that he reshuffled his Cabinet to deliberately include young people in his executive.
The president was responding to a question on including younger leaders in political leadership positions to play a meaningful role in decision-making at the highest level.
“I reshuffled my Cabinet recently and I put a lot of young people in my Cabinet,” said Zuma, adding that people had expressed different views about his decision.
“But that’s democracy,” he said.
Constitutional law professor Pierre de Vos said the court was unlikely to rule against Zuma when the matter goes back to court, unless evidence emerges that he had acted in bad faith or for corrupt reasons.
He said the difficulty with the matter is that Zuma’s decision to hire and fire ministers is political and that “there are no objective criteria” in this regard.
“I am not holding my breath that anything will come of this except for reasons as to why he made his decision,” De Vos said.
“The implication is that at the very least the president must provide reasons for his decision. “The real case happens when reasons and the record have been provided.”
– Additional reporting by Nkululeko Ncana