JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, March 31 (UPI) — South African President Jacob Zuma violated the constitution by ignoring a demand of repayment for home improvements, the country’s highest court said Thursday.
Constitutional Court Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng said remodeling the home of the scandal-plagued president cost over $20 million in government funds, and that Zuma ignored the demand of a federal anti-corruption agency, known as the Public Protector, for repayment. It is an unprecedented reprimand, and opposition parties that pressed the case in court said they will seek Zuma’s impeachment.
Zuma’s African National Congress party has been in power in South Africa since the end of apartheid rule in 1994, so impeachment is unlikely. Some party leaders, though, believe Zuma, 73, is dragging the party down.
The court identified government expenditures on a swimming pool, an amphitheater, a visitor center and livestock enclosures at Zuma’s rural home in Nkandla, KwaZulu-Natal province, noting Zuma had “unduly benefited” from the renovations.
In a unanimous judgement by the 11 court justices, Mogoeng said, “The president failed to uphold, defend and respect the constitution,” adding that the rule of law was a “sharp and mighty sword that stands ready to chop the ugly head of impunity from its stiffened neck.”
The real estate scandal is the latest of several for Zuma since he came to power in 2009. Charges of corruption in his involvement in an arms deal were dropped, and he was found not guilty of raping a friend’s HIV-positive daughter. Reports of other misconduct have coincided with a lack of growth and jobs in South Africa’s economy, and a November poll showed public distrust of Zuma at 66 percent, twice the figure of a poll five years earlier.
The government said on Thursday that Zuma will respect the court’s decision. In February he said, for the first time, he would pay back the remodeling money, anticipating the court ruling.