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.
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.
One Twitter user, Russel Brueton, said:
The best apology he could have given us is his resignation. This rings hollow. It's now time for Parliament to #impeachzuma
— Russel Brueton (@RusselBrueton) April 1, 2016
Another user wrote:
— Ellis Mnyandu (@Ellis_Mnyandu) April 2, 2016
Chairperson of the ANC and Speaker of the National Assembly Baleka Mbete has also offered an apology:
On behalf of myself and the National Assembly, i would like to apologies to Nation for the approach we took in dealing with Nkandla matter.
— BalekaMbete (@Baleke_Mbete) April 1, 2016
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.
— Democratic Alliance (@Our_DA) March 31, 2016
‘Zuma Should Go’
Chanda Mfula asked the ruling African National Congress (ANC) to distance itself from Zuma:
— Chanda Mfula (@ChandaMfula) March 31, 2016
Others are expressing concerns that a sitting president has failed to protect the country's constitution:
— Sihle Ngobese (@SihleDLK) March 31, 2016
iTechHub SA noted:
Whether Zuma should go or stay is a frivolous question. The court made the judgment. He's not fit. He broke his Oath of Office. #impeachzuma
— iTechHub SA (@imThisDiego) March 31, 2016
Rhulani Bila wanted South Africa to lead other African nations by example:
— Rhulani Bila (@RhuBila) April 2, 2016
Some say the ruling party has only two choices:
— André (@afcoetzee) April 1, 2016
John Steenhuisen warned the ruling party:
— John Steenhuisen (@jsteenhuisen) April 1, 2016
#ImpeachZuma Make south africa great again
— The Tribe (@TheTribeOffical) April 1, 2016
‘Impeachment Is a Joke’
Not everyone, of course, is happy with the judgement against the president.
Sisonke Msimang said impeachment was a joke:
Please DA. You need another strategy. Impeachment is a joke. Your numbers are underwhelming. Mmusi tell your people please. #ConCourt
— Sisonke Msimang (@Sisonkemsimang) March 31, 2016
While Thandeka asked:
— T H A N D E K A (@_thndk) April 1, 2016
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:
Elsewhere in Africa we would change the constitution and fire the judges or tell them we can't guarantee their security #ConCourt
— Trevor Ncube (@TrevorNcube) March 31, 2016
Stevie French, South African actress and TV anchor, tweeted:
— Stevie French (@StevieFrenchSA) March 31, 2016