Johannesburg - President Jacob Zuma faces his sternest test yet to cling to his position as president of South Africa when the Constitutional Court rules on Friday on an EFF application for his impeachment.
A two-thirds majority is required for impeachment - an impossibility just a few months ago. But much has changed since then.
There has been a major shift in attitude towards Zuma’s removal since the ascendancy of Cyril Ramaphosa to the presidency of the ANC just over a week ago.
Zuma now faces a difficult choice. If the Concourt rules against him, and if the ANC votes against him, he faces the possibility of losing all his presidential benefits and pension if he is impeached.
His other option would be to quit as president, as many have been calling for him to do, before an impeachment process can begin.
The EFF, supported by other opposition parties - the UDM, Cope, the DA and the civil-society organisation Corruption Watch - lodged an application for Zuma’s impeachment in September.
In their application, the parties argued that Speaker of Parliament Baleka Mbete had failed to act on a Concourt ruling in March 2016 that Zuma had failed to uphold, defend and respect the constitution.
They contended that, based on the Nkandla ruling, which found that the remedial action called for by the public protector was binding, there was prima facie evidence for impeachment proceedings.
At the time of the application, Mbete argued that she did not have powers to investigate Zuma.
According to her, it was the responsibility of the National Assembly to do so.
Constitutional law expert advocate Paul Hoffman SC pointed out that a judgment in favour of the EFF and opposition parties would have dire consequences for Zuma.
He said Zuma would lose “any benefits of that office”. This included salary, pension, widows’ pensions, travel allowances and gratuities - “in fact any payments made to a president by the state”.
“If, as is likely, the court rules in favour of the EFF, then the matter of a proper motion of impeachment (technically the removal from office) will have to be put on the agenda of the National Assembly when it reconvenes in February.
“He (Zuma) would be better advised to quit before the processes investigating him are set in motion,” Hoffman added.
According to section 89 (2) of the constitution, which deals with the removal of a president, anyone who has been removed from the office of president in terms of subsection (1) (a) or (b) may not receive any benefits of that office, and may not serve in any public office.
The constitution states that for impeachment proceedings to take place, the president had to be in serious violation of the constitution or the law, or be guilty of serious misconduct.
Hoffman’s views were earlier backed by other legal experts, such as advocates Pierre de Vos and Professor Shadrack Gutto, who said impeachment proceedings were more serious than a parliamentary vote of no confidence in Zuma.
In April, when the DA filed a motion of no confidence in Zuma, De Vos said if Zuma was removed through a motion of no confidence, he wouldn’t lose his presidential retirement benefits, such as a lifelong salary. “He loses benefits only if he is impeached,” he added.
Gutto agreed. He said a motion of no confidence would have required the opposition parties to get a simple majority for such a motion to succeed.
Gutto explained that if Zuma was to be removed through a motion of no confidence, all his ministers and deputy ministers would also be required to resign.
He said this was contained in section 102 (2) of the constitution which makes provision for the National Assembly, by way of voting, to pass a motion of no confidence in the president.
At the time, Gutto said ministers and deputy ministers were unlikely to vote in favour of the motion, and this was proved when the DA’s motion was finally debated, but failed to garner a majority vote.
Despite the motion having failed, some ANC MPs voted alongside the opposition.
Gutto said impeachment proceedings affect only the president.
The EFF’s national chairperson and senior counsel, advocate Dali Mpofu, tweeted “Ayeye” in excitement yesterday when the news broke that judgment on Zuma was imminent.
Former Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi tweeted: “No holiday or rest for those found to be in breach of their oath of office! Concourt to rule on Zuma impeachment case on Friday.”
UDM leader Bantu Holomisa tweeted: “Test for JZ, diluted NEC if he loses.”