9 February 2016

Is this the beginning of the end for Zuma?


South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma has been taken to the Constitutional Court by the main opposition parties in South Africa for defying the Public Protector by unlawfully “enriching himself” and ignoring recommendations of the 2014 report into his private house renovations.

The Public Protector is South Africa’s anti-corruption watchdog: an office established on the recommendation of the National Assembly in 1996, and appointed by the President himself, to uphold the mandate to
strengthen constitutional democracy by investigating and redressing improper and prejudicial conduct, maladministration and abuse of power in state affairs; resolving administrative disputes or rectifying any act or omission in administrative conduct”. It is currently held by Thuli Madonsela.

The Public Protector’s report in 2014 said: “The president tacitly accepted the implementation of all measures at his residence and has unduly benefited from the enormous capital investment in the non-security installations at his private residence.”

Protesters are now congregating outside the court, led by leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) Julius Malema, although the main opposition party, Democratic Alliance (DA), has also organised its own protest.

Zuma’s own African National Congress party have called the protests a “political exercise”, a chance to whip up support for the opposition, and they are right. And they should be concerned. The case is trending under the hashtag #PayBackTheMoney, the same hashtag usually associated with the EFF and their more radical economic speeches. What did the ANC expect? With the economy tanking, Zuma will no longer be able to sweep matters like this under the rug.

Zuma is the President of a country. If we thought the MPs expenses scandal in the UK in 2009 was bad, this is beyond a joke. At least the embezzling British MPs attempted to be subtle about it – the total amount of tax payers’ money Zuma has ploughed into his residence amounts to $23 million. He hasn’t simply bought a duck house, he has bought some big ticket items.

The swimming pool has been justified by Zuma’s entourage as a boost to security, as it is, in fact, a “fire pool” that could be used as a source of water in the event of fire breaking out at the residence. Although, if fire really was a concern for the President at his homestead, he perhaps should not have constructed his amphitheatre so far away from the fire pool. Yes, that’s right, his amphitheatre.

Last week Zuma made an offer to pay back some of the costs of the refurbishment of his private home in Nkandla, but these offers have been rejected by the opposition parties.

Zuma has responded since by dubbing Thuli Madonsela’s findings as mere recommendations and therefore are not equal to orders given by a court of law.

The DA and EFF are hoping the Constitutional Court will conclude that the President has contravened the constitution and therefore violated his oath of office. This would open the door to demand his impeachment.

Jeremy Gauntlett, the lawyer now defending the President at the Constitutional Court in Johannesburg, appears to be arguing that Mr Zuma should comply with the Public Protector’s report and should pay back some of the money spent on the upgrades. Today, Gauntlett accepted that Zuma was wrong not to have fulfilled the recommendations of the Public Protector, but also said the President’s actions had not broken the constitution.

Best of luck to you, Mr Gauntlett.

Olivia Archdeacon is Assistant Editor of CapX