Zuma not held to account for home upgrade scandal, South African court finds

South Africa's top court has ruled that parliament failed to hold President Jacob Zuma to account in a scandal over multi-million dollar upgrades to his home, and must launch proceedings that could remove him from office.

Key points:

  • Jacob Zuma spent millions of taxpayer money on upgrades to his private home
  • The upgrades were found to be unconstitutional in 2016
  • This ruling forces parliament to implement rules for impeachment, which could lead to Zuma's removal

The ruling is the latest judicial setback for Mr Zuma, who has faced widespread public demands to step down as president of Africa's most industrialised economy before an election in 2019.

The Constitutional Court's ruling followed its conclusion last year that Mr Zuma violated the constitution when he benefited inappropriately from state funding for his Nkandla home.

He spent nearly $20 million in state money on upgrades, which included a cattle pen, chicken run and a swimming pool that the police ministry famously described as a "fire pool" required for fire-fighting purposes.

It was one of a series of presidential scandals that have tarnished the reputation of the ruling African National Congress (ANC), the main anti-apartheid movement that has led South Africa since the first all-race elections in 1994.

"We conclude that the assembly did not hold the president to account," said Chris Jafta, a Constitutional Court judge who read out the ruling.

He called for parliament to institute rules that would provide for a president's removal.

While the ruling comes nowhere near starting an impeachment process against the embattled leader now, it gives parliament six months to make provision for the removal of a president.

Parliament said in a statement it would comply with the instruction, but it was not immediately clear what specific steps it would take, and whether any concrete action would be completed before the election.

The court ruled that parliament, where the ANC holds a commanding majority, needed to act within 180 days.

The ANC said it would study the ruling and discuss it at a high-level meeting on January 10.

"The court is saying that there is no mechanism in place to implement the provision regarding impeachment," said Lawson Naidoo, the executive secretary of the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution, an NGO.

"They must make a provision within the rules for that to happen."

Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng disagreed with the majority ruling, describing it as judicial overreach.

Mr Zuma was replaced as party leader this month by Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, a critic of the corruption that has undermined South Africa's economy.

Daniel Silke, director of Political Futures Consultancy, said the ball was now in the party's court.

"The pressure will come from within the ANC to engineer a dignified exit for President Zuma … this judgment hastens or adds substantial pressure for an early retirement by Zuma," he said.


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