South African opposition seeks review of Zuma cabinet shuffle

Move after court orders president to hand over documents explaining firing of finance minister

South African president Jacob Zuma: has five working days to hand over documents explaining his decision to fire his finance minister and shuffle his cabinet.  Photograph: EPA

South African president Jacob Zuma: has five working days to hand over documents explaining his decision to fire his finance minister and shuffle his cabinet. Photograph: EPA

 

South Africa’s main opposition party is seeking a legal review of President Jacob Zuma’s decision to fire finance minister Pravin Gordhan and shuffle his cabinet, after a court ruling on Thursday compelled the president to hand over all records that explain the move.

The judge at North Gauteng high court, Bashier Vally, gave Mr Zuma five working days to comply with his verdict.

The judgment could have serious ramifications for Mr Zuma if any information he supplies to the courts shows he was not acting in the best interests of the country. He already faces calls from inside and outside his party to step down.

While Mr Zuma might try to appeal Thursday’s ruling, legal experts say his chances of success are slim.

On April 24th, the Democratic Alliance (DA) party applied to the courts to force Mr Zuma to disclose the thinking and documentation behind the reshuffle, because it could not seek a legal review of the president’s actions on March 31st without that information.

Mr Zuma has refused to give the DA his reasons officially, saying he legally does not have to because, as president, it is his prerogative to hire and fire members of his cabinet.

A legal review could potentially find Mr Zuma’s reasoning for the reshuffle unlawful, which is what the DA wants.

In court papers, Mr Zuma had said the reshuffle was an executive decision that deserved protection from disclosure.

Junk status

The president’s reshuffle prompted two ratings agencies to downgrade the country’s investment status to junk, and the DA believes this shows his actions were irrational and harmful to ordinary South Africans.

ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa, and party officials Jackson Mthembu and Zweli Mkhize, have said publicly that the president had referred to an intelligence report that implicated Mr Gordhan in a regime change plot as the basis for his decision.

The ANC’s alliance partner, the South African Communist Party, also confirmed the existence of the intelligence report, before going on to say it was a dubious document.

Mr Zuma has not mentioned the report publicly, but rather said his reshuffle was about promoting a younger generation of leaders.

However, it is widely suspected that Mr Zuma removed Mr Gordhan to rid the ministry of finance of his leadership.

Mr Gordhan was implementing a number of anti-graft strategies designed to block alleged attempts to loot the state by politicians and businessmen linked to the president.