Johannesburg - As President Jacob Zuma prepared to deliver his last political report to the ANC's top brass, the North Gauteng High Court on Wednesday handed him another legal defeat, which forced the governing party to urge him to implement it.
Unlike in the past when the party would allow Zuma to exhaust all legal avenues on many matters, on Wednesday the ANC called on him to implement the high court’s scathing unanimous judgment that he set up a commission of inquiry into state capture, without delay.
This was as the president readied himself to give his last speech as leader of the ANC at the opening of the ANC's crucial elective conference on Saturday, where some leaders were likely to complain about “judicial overreach”.
Zuma was also slapped with two personal cost orders - which the DA estimates to be in excess of R6million - for his conduct during litigation before and after former public protector Thuli Madonsela’s State of Capture report was released in October last year.
But one of the president’s key supporters, Umkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans Association leader Kebby Maphatsoe, sought to downplay the matter, saying the ANC and its president had already agreed on the commission but that it should cover a broad spectrum, including the apartheid era.
Gauteng Judge President Dunstan Mlambo and North Gauteng High Court judges Phillip Boruchowitz and Wendy Hughes found that Zuma was reckless and unreasonable when he decided to review Madonsela’s report, in which she recommended that a commission of inquiry be established.
”The review application was a clear non-starter and the president was seriously reckless in pursuing it as he has done. His conduct falls far short of the high standard expressed in section 195 of the constitution,” reads the judgment.
The judges found that Zuma’s statements to the media and in Parliament expressing his unequivocal intention to establish a commission of inquiry, and therefore pre-empting any justifiable basis to challenge Madonsela’s remedial action, pointed to the reckless misconception underpinning the president’s application in seeking to review and have the remedial action set aside.
The president has been directed to appoint, within 30 days, a judge hand-picked by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng to head the commission.
The judges also ordered the commission to complete its work within six months and the National Treasury to adequately resource it.
Zuma was told by the full bench of judges that his powers were not untrammelled and that his legal challenge had resulted in further delaying the resolution of the state capture allegations.
"In our view, the president had no justifiable basis to simply ignore the impact of this corruption on the South African public.
"His conduct also falls far short of the expectation on him as head of state to support institutions of democracy, such as the Public Protector,” the judges said.
The ANC welcomed the full-bench judgment, saying it brought the country a step closer to the implementation of its national executive committee resolution directing that the judicial commission of inquiry into the state capture claims be established without delay.
According to the ANC, the commission was in the country’s best interests.
It would provide everyone an opportunity to tell their side of the story, and therefore, the party trusted that Zuma would implement the judgment without delay.
“A judicial commission of inquiry is our only recourse in verifying the very seriousness allegations of state capture, which threatens the integrity of our democratically elected government,” the party said.
Opening the ANC national policy conference in June, Zuma said he supported the establishment of a judicial commission of inquiry into the capture of the state or government, in the main by business interests.
The conference also re- solved to address matters of state capture and corruption, including collusion, and recommended that the state immediately desist from contractual and commercial commitments with companies and families involved in such activities.
Policy conference resolutions are expected to be ratified at the five-day national elective conference starting on Saturday.
Madonsela said Zuma could have assisted her office “a little bit better”.
“The president was never available to be properly interviewed and you heard what the judge read, that he was first informed in March 2016 that there were allegations against him. And he was informed in April that the investigation had not been completed,” she said.
Madonsela said the key element that emerged on Wednesday was accountability and that nobody can exercise public power without being accountable or answerable for the exercise of that power.
The Dominican Order, a group of Catholic priests, who complained first to Madonsela about state capture through Bishop Abel Gabuza of the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference, said they felt vindicated and satisfied by the judges’ ruling.
Gabuza called the ruling a victory for justice and a sign that South Africa was a country that respected justice. “It would be unusual if he (Zuma) doesn’t appeal,” he said.
DA leader Mmusi Maimane, who also complained to Madonsela, warned that the official opposition would seek an enforcement order should Zuma appeal the judgment to delay the setting up of the commission.
EFF secretary-general Godrich Gardee described Zuma as a “gross constitutional delinquent of objectionable conduct and character”.
Maphatsoe said he was busy preparing for this weekend’s conference and could not comment further on a judgment he had not read.
Meanwhile, the ANC national executive committee was to convene today at a meeting to prepare for the conference and also reflect on disputes arising from processes leading to the meeting, some of which ended up in court.
The Free State ANC was due in the Bloemfontein High Court today, with rebel members fighting for the recent provincial conference to be nullified.