Zuma Must Show Cabinet Changes Rational, South Africa Court Says

  • South Africa president must give reasons for cabinet reshuffle
  • Opposition DA says Zuma’s appointments were unreasonable

South African President Jacob Zuma is legally bound to show he acted rationally when he fired Pravin Gordhan as his finance minister and made 19 other changes to his administration in a decision that caused shock and dismay, the nation’s High Court said.

Zuma said in his March 31 announcement that he made the changes to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of his administration, and include more women and younger lawmakers. The Democratic Alliance, the main opposition party, filed a lawsuit aimed at forcing him to fully disclose the reasons for his actions which it said damaged the economy. Judge Bashier Vally ordered Zuma to provide the DA with all records of his decision by May 11.

“The executive power to appoint and dismiss ministers and deputy ministers is wide-ranging, but it is not as unfettered,” Vally said in his judgment handed down on Tuesday. Those powers are “circumscribed by the bounds of rationality” and therefore subject to judicial scrutiny, he said.

Zuma sparred with Gordhan over his plans to build new nuclear power plants and the management of state companies, and the decision to fire him prompted S&P Global Ratings and Fitch Ratings Ltd. to downgrade the nation’s credit rating to junk.

The president initially told top leaders of the ruling African National Congress that an intelligence report showed Gordhan was trying to undermine his government. ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe later said the relationship between the two had reached the point of “irretrievable breakdown.”

“On the face of it, President Zuma’s decision was patently irrational and unreasonable with predictable consequences,” James Selfe, the chairman of the DA’s federal executive committee, said in an emailed statement. “Thanks to this ruling, the DA and the country will now be furnished with the reasons and record of decision.”

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