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LETTER: Parliament should act on Buffalogate

MPs buck the constitution if they sit on their hands while the Hawks flap around Phala Phala

09 JUNE 2022 – 14:46

It seems that in the swirling uncertainty around what really happened in Buffalogate the president has chosen to go to ground, behave unaccountably and silently brazen out his apparently self-inflicted predicament with unbecoming opacity.

In any possible criminal trial he would be entitled to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, but our prosecutors may not have the stomach to mount any prosecution of a sitting president, fearing, perhaps rightly, that his possible replacements will all be worse than him. This is not the stuff of which accountable governance and prosecution “without fear, favour or prejudice” are made.

Remember: no prosecutors played any role in the incarceration of Jacob Zuma at the instance of the Zondo state capture commission. His pending criminal trial (with arms dealer Thint) should have started in 2005 or even earlier, in the same trial in which Schabir Shaik was convicted for corrupting him. Not a word of evidence has been given yet, and the whole Zuma/Thint affair will be kicked into touch for years while the private prosecution of his prosecutor, the redoubtable Billy Downer, wends its way through the courts — high, supreme and constitutional. Will his former deputy, our current president, take a leaf or two out of Zuma’s playbook?

Section 1 of the constitution requires governance that is open, accountable and responsive. The deputy president, standing in for the president, has declined to answer Buffalogate questions in parliament, pleading instead to let the processes of the criminal justice administration (such as it is) take their course. This is not good enough from a constitutional perspective. Our head of state, who is also leader of the national executive, should compare favourably with Caesar’s wife. Explaining actions and justifying decisions are the essence of his constitutional role.

Section 55 requires parliament to exercise oversight over the executive, not sit on its hands while the Hawks flap around Phala Phala. In these circumstances the mechanisms offered by sections 49 and 50 come into focus. If 201 members of the National Assembly vote to dissolve parliament, the president is required to call a national election to be held within 90 days.

If the necessary simple majority of 201 is not mustered, the electorate of SA will know what to make of the situation and will know how to cast votes in the next general election. A fortiori, if no vote to dissolve parliament is held. Even the prospect of a vote on the dissolution of parliament may break the current logjam and advance accountability.

Paul Hoffman, SC, Director, Accountability Now

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