The National Assembly yesterday debated the report of the Independent Panel established to investigate whether there is prima facie evidence to institute an impeachment inquest against President Cyril Ramaphosa, in terms of section 89 of the Constitution.

The panel’s mandate was to consider a preliminary enquiry relating to a motion by African Transformation Movement (ATM) Member of Parliament Mr Vuyo Zungula, proposing a section 89 enquiry, and make a recommendation to the Speaker whether sufficient evidence exists to show that the President committed a serious violation of the Constitution or law; or committed a serious misconduct.

Political parties represented in the National Assembly expressed mixed views on the report’s recommendations that the President has a case to answer following the controversial robbery at the President’s farm involving large amounts of money in foreign currency.

Supporting the report and the establishment of an impeachment committee, Mr John Steenhuisen, the leader of the official opposition, the Democratic Alliance, said adopting the report was about allowing due process to take its course. “It is about acknowledging that the large gaps in the story around the hidden and stolen dollars warrant further inquiry, an inquiry that must be undertaken by a committee of this Assembly.

“That is the test before this house today. Have we learnt anything from the past or are we prepared to break Parliament once more in defence of a leader who doesn’t want to be held accountable?” he asked.

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) also supported the panel’s report and the call for the establishment of an impeachment committee to continue with the investigation on whether the President has violated any laws and the Constitution. EFF leader Mr Julius Malema said the President’s reluctance to allow an inquiry into the activities at Phala Phala farm was shocking.

“It has become clear that you have no intention of taking responsibility for the crimes of Phala Phala farm, because at every opportunity you blame vulnerable staff members for the crimes, staff members who operate under your instruction. We declare without fear of contradiction that you are an enemy of the Constitution of South Africa. You should be ashamed that you have become the enemy of what so long defined your legacy,” he said.

Mr Malema also questioned the President’s decision to take the report to court for a review, saying this is an attempt to avoid accountability.

Inkatha Freedom Party Member of Parliament Inkosi Mzamo Buthelezi said, “The IFP has considered the report of the independent panel, and we believe that it could not have come to any other conclusion based on the information before it. We therefore support the recommendations it has made. The panel has given its recommendations to Parliament. Thus Parliament should set in motion the process of an impeachment committee,” he said.

 Mr Pieter Groenewald of the Freedom Front Plus also supported the report and called on the President to face questions in a parliamentary inquiry about what happened at Phala Phala. “It is common sense that if the President has nothing to hide, he will come forward and give answers. If he respects the Constitution, he will make himself available in the impeachment committee to ensure accountability,” said Mr Groenewald.

Another party supporting the report was the African Christian Democratic Party. Party leader Reverend Kenneth Meshoe called on the President to, “Stop being evasive and to be honest because the people of South Africa want answers. The matter will not end here, the President has a case to answer about the millions on his farm and why they were not declared, and why the theft was not reported to police,” Rev Meshoe said.

Mr Bantu Holomisa, leader of the United Democratic Movement (UDM) also supported the report recommending the establishment of an impeachment committee. “The UDM believe all four main players – the President, Mr Benjamin Chauke, Mr Arthur Fraser and Mr Hazim – must be given an opportunity to state their side of the story. The panel found the president has a case to answer. Let there now be a full enquiry by Parliament, the institution that elected him and to which he is accountable,” he said.

Mr Zungula said it is a travesty of justice for Parliament to decide that the President should not be given an opportunity to clear his name. “The President is attempting to escape accountability by taking a non-binding report to court. If he is innocent, why is he rejecting a process that will clear his name?” Mr Zungula asked.

Mr Brett Herron of the Good Party also supported the report and the calls for the establishment of an impeachment committee. He said the panel report presented an opportunity to break away from a culture of impunity, which has eroded Parliament for years, and to ensure that Parliament performs its job in holding the executive to account.

“South Africa needs leaders who are morally, ethically and legally unimpeachable. No person is above the law and the rules adopted to give effect to Section 89 must take their course,” said Mr Herron.

However, the Good Party also shares the President’s reservations that there are various potential legal irregularities in the panel’s work and the report. “To impeach a sitting president is an extraordinary constitutional act with significant social, political and economic consequences. It requires a flawless legal process, it will be unfair and unreasonable to hold the President before an impeachment committee while these legal questions remain unanswered,” Mr Herron argued.

He said Section 89 process must proceed, but the impeachment must be deferred pending the outcome of the review.

Sakhile Mokoena
14 December 2022