President Jacob Zuma on Thursday defended a controversial review of South Africa’s highest court, insisting it was not a sinister move to put more power in his party’s hands.
“We are not intending sitting every day to intend to change the constitution. Not at all,” said Zuma, replying to questions in parliament on the government’s plans to assess the court’s rulings.
“We would have done so if we wanted to, we have got enough majority to do. Absolutely. We would, I’m telling you, you don’t know.”
Opposition lawmakers quizzed Zuma if he intended making the parliament the country’s top power and asked for clarity, after he raised alarms last month by saying the powers of the Constitutional Court must be reviewed.
The constitution is South Africa’s supreme law and government has announced a review of the decisions of the court which has the power to send back laws to parliament where his ruling African National Congress (ANC) holds the majority.
“I must state that I am a bit surprised by the concerns that have been raised regarding amendments to the constitution,” said Zuma who has previously locked horns with the courts over the limits of presidential power.
“The constitution is a living document. It is meant to be reviewed annually by a committee of parliament. The constitution has already been amended 16 times since it was adopted in 1996. It is a perfectly normal exercise.”
A current bill before parliament was to extend its jurisdication, he argued.
“We are not imposing or trying to change the constitution, we are doing our duty,” he said. “In the process of governance, we have got to come to a point you say let us relook at this, is it moving properly?”
The ANC holds 65.9 percent of the seats in the National Assembly, a handful of seats short of a two thirds majority needed for constitutional amendments.
But bills to change the document’s founding values require a 75 percent of votes which law experts say would be likely in a review of the court’s powers.