South Africa’s Appeal Court, in a setback to President Jacob Zuma, ruled that his 2009 appointment of the country’s most senior prosecutor was invalid and unconstitutional.
The ruling, which sets aside the appointment of Menzi Simelane as national director of public prosecutions, comes amid criticism from opposition parties that Zuma has appointed his acolytes in senior government roles.
South Africa’s opposition Democratic Alliance took the case to the Appeals Court after losing a High Court bid last year to have the appointment declared invalid. It said in court papers Simelane was not fit and proper for the post to which Zuma appointed him two years ago, Reuters reports.
Appeals Court Judge Mahomed Navsa said in his ruling that Zuma did not consider all the facts before the appointment of Simelane, as there were “many unresolved questions concerning his integrity and experience.”
“I accept that the president must have a multitude of daily duties and is a very busy man. However when he is dealing with an office as important as that of the NDPP, which is integral to the rule of law and to our success as a democracy, then time should be taken to get it right,” Navsa said.
Zuma’s spokesman and Simelane were not immediately available for comment.
DA leader Helen Zille told reporters that Thursday’s court ruling, likely to be challenged by Zuma and the government in the Constitutional Court — South Africa’s highest court — was a victory for democracy.
She pointed to Zuma’s appointment of a chief justice deemed to be in his camp and this week’s replacement of a veteran anti-apartheid activist as the country’s top corruption investigator with a Zuma adviser as moves by the president to surround himself with supporters.
“The purpose is to put a Zuma acolyte in every one of those key institutions which should be independent and the purpose of that is to ensure that those institutions, far from keeping powerful people accountable in the interest of the people, protect those powerful individuals,” Zille said.
Zuma last month fired two cabinet ministers and suspended the national police chief in a bid to dispel criticism that he is soft on corruption.
But his recent anti-graft action and his decision to launch a fresh inquiry into a multi-billion arms deal has failed to convince analysts that he is hardening his stance on the issue.
Graft and sweetheart deals that enrich the politically-connected in sectors such as mining are among the obstacles to foreign investment in Africa’s biggest economy.
The 30 billion rand deal to buy European military equipment from about a decade ago has clouded South Africa’s politics for years.
Zuma was linked to the deal when he was deputy president through his former financial adviser, who was jailed for corruption. This almost torpedoed his bid for high office but all charges against him were dropped in 2009.