A senior South African ruling party official accused the country’s top court of overstepping its mandate and warned it not to dabble in politics.
“You can’t have a judiciary that seeks to arrest the functioning of government,” Gwede Mantashe, secretary-general of the African National Congress, said an interview with the Johannesburg-based Sowetan newspaper, according to a transcript published today. The fact that the courts are independent “must never be translated into hostility” toward the government.
The Constitutional Court has issued several recent judgments against the government, including declaring its decision to disband an anti-corruption unit known as the Scorpions unlawful. It also ruled that President Jacob Zuma’s attempt to extend former chief justice Sandile Ngcobo’s tenure was unconstitutional.
The Scorpions decision “seeks to cast aspersions on the work of Parliament,” Mantashe said. “Once you have that kind of judgment that ventures into political weighting of views, then it’s a slippery road we have embarked on.”
Mantashe described the court’s decision on the chief justice as “suspicious,” saying Zuma’s offer to reappoint Ngcobo was permissible under a law enacted a decade ago and its legality had never been questioned.
“We are getting close to a situation where Parliament drafts legislation and refers it to the Constitutional Court before passing it,” he said.
Zuma has also warned the courts not to involve themselves in policy determination.
“Once government has decided on the appropriate policies, the judiciary cannot, when striking down legislation or parts thereof on the basis of illegality, raise that as an opportunity to change the policies,” the president said in a July 8 speech in Johannesburg. “We seek to respect the powers and role conferred by our constitution on the legislature and the judiciary. We expect the same from these very important institutions.”
Some politicians don’t understand how the courts function or relate to the government, William Gumede, a political analyst at the University of the Witwatersrand, said today by phone from Johannesburg.
“The Constitutional Court is there as a super-safeguard,” he said. “It deals with constitutional issues brought to it and only in very extraordinary case would it initiate debate. It is worrying that this criticism might undermine the judiciary.”