Aspects of the strange decision to suspend communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams for two months for committing a crime involving an infraction of the lockdown regulations that still require attention are that in so doing, President Cyril Ramaphosa has spared her a criminal record and has treated her as his employee.
The president is sworn to uphold the constitution, which requires equality before the law. There is no “royal game” status if equal treatment for all is meted out, especially when draconian steps are taken in a menacingly authoritarian fashion and then inexplicably relaxed for the benefit of an errant cabinet minister.
In effect, her mealy-mouthed apology records a guilty plea — the criminal law should take its course if the concept of equality before the law means anything.
While a precautionary suspension pending clarity on alleged wrongdoing is feasible for cabinet members, they are not employees. Moreover, in this case the suspension is not precautionary, it is punitive (well slightly punitive as, after tax, there is not much financial difference) and guilt is a matter of record, as is the unacceptability of the explanation proffered.
The correct legal position, with submission, is that ministers serve at the pleasure of the president and are not entitled to fair labour practices because they are not employees. Given her criminal behaviour, a termination of the minister’s cabinet membership and the laying of a criminal charge, both by the president, would have been the proper course if he wishes to be taken seriously on the lockdown.
Ndabeni-Abrahams is not the only cabinet member who belongs in the dock of a criminal court, but she is, for now, the clearest example of the double standards of our political leadership.
Paul Hoffman SC
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