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Assessing and promoting civil and minority rights in South Africa.

[Source: Daily Maverick by Ranjeni Munusamy.]

After almost 10 hours of legal arguments, the Constitutional Court reserved judgment on the United Democratic Movement’s application to direct National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete to hold a secret ballot on a motion of no-confidence against President Jacob Zuma. The matter boiled down to Mbete’s discretion to allow a secret ballot. Advocates representing opposition parties argued the secret ballot was required in this matter, while Mbete and Zuma’s advocates conceded it was permissible. As fascinating as the legal arguments were, this case is about politics. Therefore, the courts can only go so far in dealing with South Africa’s big political dilemma: the disastrous Zuma presidency.

Throughout the day, the judges of the Constitutional Court asked counsel for the various parties before them about the basis on which the court should be involved and why the secret ballot was necessary. The judges were clearly concerned and mindful of the separation of powers doctrine and the question of judicial overreach. The only thing the court could do, Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng said, was look at the law and interpret it.

At the end of the day’s arguments, Justice Mogoeng thanked the advocates for their “enlightenment”. “You have no idea how challenging it was to conceptualise the issues,” he said.

Apart from the judges being cautious of another matter relating to Zuma, particularly as his supporters in KwaZulu-Natal were staging a protest against judicial overreach, they also wanted to be careful not to encroach on the functions of Parliament or prescribe to the Speaker how to act.

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South Africa at a Glance
55 910 000 (mid 2016 estimate)
6.1% y/y in March 2017 (CPI) & +5.2% y/y in March 2017 (PPI)
0.3% q/q for the 4th quarter of 2016
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