The reshuffle, which caused widespread consternation locally and internationally, with dramatic effects upon the value of the Rand against foreign currencies, saw the dismissal of a number of cabinet ministers, chief among them Pravin Gordhan as finance minister, along with his deputy.
The decision sparked a wave of popular protest that cut across party political lines and indeed shattered the tripartitie alliance and cleaved the already fraught African National Congress into factions at each other’s throats, dispensing with any pretence of comrade-ship.
The opposition Democratic Alliance then took the President to court to provide reasons why he made the decision he did.
Yesterday Judge Vally stressed that his intent was not to interfere in the president’s executive powers but to rather ensure that those decisions had been applied rationally – and that indeed the president accepted this.
The reality though is that far too many people will see the court ruling as doing the opposite, blurring the lines between the separation of powers and providing yet more ammunition for those who feel that a government elected by majority rule is being hamstrung by the work of a minority hellbent on tying it in the courts.
There is merit in both arguments. Indeed, if there was ever anyone who has made full use of the law to frustrate bids against him – during his time in and out of office – it is the president himself.
While Vally’s decision once again underscores the laudable independence of our judiciary, we are uneasy though at the precedent of perennially having the president’s actions scrutinised in court. The president has the prerogative to shuffle his cabinet as often as he wants and indeed to supersize as he has; the power to appoint and indeed disappoint, with the rider being that if he is unsuccessful his administration will pay the price at the election box.
That is democracy; government by the people for the people and through the people.
Recourse to the law, while perhaps allowed, flies against the spirit of this.