“When will the Emperor [Zuma] realise that he is naked?” – Mathews Phosa
Yesterday, South Africa’s Constitutional court ruled against President Jacob Zuma, saying he violated the country’s Constitution by refusing to pay back public money used for renovating his private home in Nkandla, after he assumed office in 2009. Zuma’s refurbished home includes a cattle enclosure, swimming pool, a helipad, an amphitheatre, a visitors centre, a chicken run and three houses for members of his staff.
According to the unanimous decision of the court, Zuma “failed to uphold, defend and respect the Constitution as the supreme law of the land,” and was ordered to reimburse the state for certain upgrades. Zuma spent about R246 million in upgrading his home and refused to pay back the state. In February, however, he offered to reimburse some of of the cost incurred, arguing that the cost of the upgrade should be borne by the government as they are security-related.
This verdict deals a huge blow to President Zuma as it gives his opposition another issue to leverage while calling for his impeachment or resignation. This will certainly affect the president’s future in SA’s politics, if there was still a chance that he had any. Recently, he has come under fire for a number of issues including corruption allegations and a series of bad decisions that has ultimately led to the country’s crumbling economy. His foolish decision to fire Nhlanhla Nene, a competent and very respected finance minister cost the country gravely, resulting in R169bn off the market value of the JSE, a weakened bank index by 18.5 percent, and a 9.3 percent slash off the rand-dollar exchange rate.
Mmusi Maimane, the leader of the Democratic Alliance, the main opposition party has said that the president must subject himself to the court ruling and to the Constitution of South Africa. “If I were him, I’d be drafting a resignation letter,” he said. Mathews Phosa, former ANC treasurer general, has also called for Zuma’s resignation, saying the ANC needs a fresh start. “…there are people that hide behind the party while attempting to make a mockery of our constitution. Not in our name please,” said Phosa at a gala dinner yesterday evening. According to him, the court’s ruling put South Africans a little at ease, knowing that nobody and no action is above the law.
Core members of the ANC are yet to react to the judgement, but it is likely that they will stand by Zuma. Aubrey Matshiqi, a political analyst, told The New York Times that party members are most likely to support the president, including in the parliament, in a bid to protect their interests. “The ANC will use its parliamentary majority to quash any impeachment motion,” he said. In 2014, the office of South Africa’s public protector, concluded that President Zuma misused public funds and ordered for a reimbursement, but Zuma ignored this order. Yesterday, the court affirmed that the public prosecutor’s order had a “binding effect” on the president, therefore, he is under obligation to fulfil it.
Reacting to the verdict, the government has released a statement saying that Zuma “will reflect on the judgment and its implications on the state and government and will, in consultation with other impacted institutions of state determine the appropriate action.” South Africa anxiously awaits the outcome of this latest development; will president Zuma and the ANC do the right thing?