South Africa's Court Orders President Zuma to Pay Back Public Funds

Zuma's compound. Photo by John A Forbes. Released under Creative Commons.

Zuma's compound. Photo by John A Forbes. Released under Creative Commons.

The South African Constitutional Court, the highest court in the country, has agreed with recommendations by the public protector and rebuked President Jacob Zuma for breaching the constitution after he failed to pay back the money used for upgrades unrelated to security at his rural home in Nkandla, a town in Kwazulu Natal. The court has ordered the president to repay the money personally, as determined by the Treasury department.

In 2014, a report by South Africa's public protector, Thuli Madonsela, found that President Jacob Zuma unduly benefited from security upgrades to his Nkandla homestead, which cost taxpayers about 250 million rands, or US $25 million. The public protector asked Zuma to repay part of the money back to the state.

However, on May 28, 2015, Police Minister Nkosinathi Nhleko, a Zuma appointee, released his report on Nkandla, finding that the swimming pool, cattle kraal, chicken run, visitor's centre, and amphitheatre were valid security features and that the president was therefore not liable to pay back any of the money.

The report revealed that the cattle kraal, besides being sacred in Zuma's culture, will prevent animals from triggering motion detectors and causing panic, while the amphitheatre has an important security purpose by serving as an emergency assembly point for Zuma's family. The visitors’ centre in turn provides privacy functions and the swimming pool is a strategic asset in firefighting.

At the time, South Africans expressed their anger about the revelations and pressured Zuma to pay back the money. Internet users spread the hashtags #PayBackTheMoney and #WeWantTheMoney.

Two main opposition political parties, the Economic Freedom Fighters and the Democratic Alliance, eventually took the matter to the Constitutional Court.

When the news of the “upgrades” broke, the government tried to silence the media by saying that anyone who published images or footage of Zuma's home would face arrest because they would be breaching the National Key Points Act.

However, South Africa's media defied the ban, with the Times newspaper publishing the photos under the headline “So, Arrest Us.” Many Facebook users used the photos as a “cover photo” on their personal pages.

After the Constitutional Court delivered its judgement, President Zuma said he respects the judgement and will abide by it. He later apologised to the nation in a televised broadcast saying he had no knowledge of irregularities relating to security improvements at his residence.

South Africa's prominent figures, opposition politicians, and ordinary citizens have slammed the apology, saying he should have offered his resignation.

One Twitter user, Russel Brueton, said:

Another user wrote:

Chairperson of the ANC and Speaker of the National Assembly Baleka Mbete has also offered an apology:

The court also found that the National Assembly had flouted its constitutional obligations to hold the president accountable.

Many South Africans continue to ask President Zuma to resign, while the opposition Democratic Alliance has officially started a process for impeaching him.

A tweet from the party asking for South Africans to retweet it as a show of support for the impeachment motion has received more than 2,500 retweets.

The issue has become a hot topic of discussion and debate on Twitter, where it is trending under several hashtags, such as #ImpeachZuma, #ConCourt, and #Nkandla.

‘Zuma Should Go’

Chanda Mfula asked the ruling African National Congress (ANC) to distance itself from Zuma:

Others are expressing concerns that a sitting president has failed to protect the country's constitution:

iTechHub SA noted:

Rhulani Bila wanted South Africa to lead other African nations by example:

Some say the ruling party has only two choices:

John Steenhuisen warned the ruling party:

‘Impeachment Is a Joke’

Not everyone, of course, is happy with the judgement against the president.

Sisonke Msimang said impeachment was a joke:

While Thandeka asked:

Praise for South Africa's Judiciary

Many South Africans and other Africans have expressed admiration for the South African Constitutional Court. It is very rare in African politics for courts to deliver judgements against presidents.

Trevor Ncube, a South African based Zimbabwean entrepreneur, noted:

Stevie French, South African actress and TV anchor, tweeted:

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