I have today written to the Speaker of the National Assembly to request, in terms of Rule 30, that Parliament reconvene for a debate of urgent national public importance on the unfolding constitutional crisis around the sentencing of former President Jacob Zuma.
The deadline for Mr Zuma to hand himself over has long come and gone, and there is no legal basis for the South African Police Service not to arrest him. And yet both the Minister of Police, Bheki Cele, and the National Police Commissioner, General Khehla Sithole, have stated that they do not intend to arrest him until he has exhausted his frivolous legal strategy, or until they are ordered to do so by the Constitutional Court.
The contents of the frankly bizarre and unprecedented letter penned by Cele and sent to the Constitutional Court, in which he “seeks clarity” before taking further action, needs to be explained in this debate. His obligations, in terms of the law and the court’s instruction, could not be any clearer.
His defiance of this instruction places our democracy before a crossroads. Decisions taken – or not taken – around the arrest of Zuma to serve his 15 month sentence for contempt of court will have far-reaching implications. What is at stake here are the principles of the Rule of Law and the primacy of our Constitution, on which our democracy was founded. It is critical that we re-affirm our commitment to upholding these principles, and this needs to start in the National Assembly.
In recent years there have been a number of admissions from President Ramaphosa and the ANC that Parliament has at times failed in its duty to hold the Executive to account, and that it has to do better in future. These words mean nothing if we are not prepared to call back Parliament at a time of crisis to do its job. Each of the 400 members of the National Assembly swore an oath to serve the people of our country, and we need to start honouring that oath.
It is also critical that the nation hears directly from President Ramaphosa on this issue. It is unthinkable that the leader of a country can go missing at a time like this. He needs to step up and speak out in defence of our Constitution and in defence of our independent judiciary, which finds itself increasingly under attack from elements within his own party. His ongoing silence emboldens those elements and will make it harder for us to claw back lost ground.
The President also needs to state, unambiguously, where he stands on upholding the Rule of Law when it comes to the lockdown regulations he himself announced. The impunity with which Zuma’s supporters flouted these regulations this past week at Nkandla – along with similar displays by supporters of Ace Magashule and Julius Malema in recent weeks – sends the message to ordinary South Africans that the rules only apply to them and not those allied to South Africa’s “Big Man” politicians.
President Ramaphosa needs to come out of hiding and draw his line in the sand. The time for appeasement and conciliation between warring ANC factions has come and gone. Hoping to remain silent until it all blows over cannot be the strategy of a president. Both he and all the members of the National Assembly need to start doing their jobs.
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