Zuma’s SONA army deployment – what the law says
President Jacob Zuma shocked many on Tuesday night when his office announced that he deployed 441 South African National Defence Force (SANDF) soldiers to Parliament.
They would‚ a statement said‚ assist the South African Police Service (SAPS) to “maintain law and order during the opening of Parliament where the president will deliver the state of the nation address”.
The SANDF will work with SAPS until Friday.
Political parties have expressed outrage at Zuma’s decision‚ with many considering challenging this decision before the opening of Parliament on Thursday evening.
Many legal experts are unsure whether it is legal for the president to deploy the defence force to Parliament‚ with some citing breaching the separation of powers as a possible illegality.
So far‚ this is what we do know about the president deploying the army:
Firstly‚ while we may have another version of a commander-in-chief‚ the constitution only recognises one CiC‚ and that is the president. This means only Jacob Zuma can authorise the employment of the SANDF.
According to the constitution‚ there are only three reasons the president can allow for the employment of the defence force: to help the police‚ to defend the country and to fulfil international obligations – like be part of UN peacekeeping troops. In this case‚ the president has deployed soldiers to assist the police‚ which he did in 2015 during a spate of xenophobic attacks.
When the president decides to deploy the army‚ the first thing he has to do is inform Parliament. He has to give details to Parliament as to why the army is being deployed‚ in which areas‚ how many soldiers will be sent out‚ and for how long.
If Parliament is not sitting at that time‚ he has seven days to inform MPs.
If Parliament does not agree with the deployment‚ it can call the president to account for his actions. It probably won’t happen in this case.
If Parliament feels the president went too far‚ the National Assembly has the power to remove the president. This can only happen after it gets detailed information about the deployment.
The law allows for “security services” – which includes the defence force – to enter the parliamentary precincts and perform “any policing function in the precincts” in two situations: with the permission of the speaker and secondly‚ when there is an immediate danger to life or safety‚ or a threat of damage to property.