S.Africa’s Zuma faces torrent of calls to go after court rebuke
South African President Jacob Zuma faced a chorus of calls Friday to step down after a court ruled that he breached the constitution in a judgement that engulfed him in a fresh bout of controversy.
Zuma retains widespread loyalty within the ruling African National Congress (ANC) whose lawmakers dominate parliament, but his tarnished image has shaken the party ahead of local elections.
The main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, hailed a damning verdict by the country’s top court Thursday that Zuma had violated the constitution by refusing to repay public funds spent on his private home.
“This judgement is an immense victory for democracy, for the rule of law, and for the people of South Africa,” DA leader Mmusi Maimane told reporters on Friday.
“It simply cannot be business as usual when President Zuma has been found to have violated the constitution.”
The party has launched impeachment proceedings against the head of state, in a move likely to fail as it would require the support of a two-thirds majority in parliament.
But the impeachment attempt is set to keep Zuma’s misdeeds in the public eye ahead of municipal elections this year when the ANC risks losing control of Gauteng province, which includes Johannesburg and Pretoria.
The storm of press criticism focused on Zuma’s refusal to comply with an ombudswoman’s orders to repay money spent on a swimming pool, chicken run, cattle enclosure and amphitheatre at his rural homestead.
“There is only one way South Africa can escape a full-blown constitutional crisis… and that would be his resignation or dismissal,” said the Sowetan newspaper.
“He has no legal or moral authority to govern.”
– Loyalists fight back –
The upgrades, which were valued in 2014 at 216 million rand (then $24 million), became a symbol of alleged corruption and greed within the ANC, which has ruled since Nelson Mandela came to power in 1994 after the end of apartheid.
Zuma loyalists fought back to defend the embattled president.
“We have learnt lessons from the judgement’ and wish to state it unequivocally’ unambiguously and categorically clearly that we firmly stand behind the ANC President,” the influential ANC Women’s League said in a statement.
Zuma is due to retire in 2019 when his second term in office ends.
One of the names considered a possible candidate to replace him is his ex-wife and African Union Commission chief, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
Her spokesman on Friday confirmed that she would step down when her term ends in July, presenting an opportunity for her to return to domestic politics after leaving AU headquarters in Ethiopia.
Zuma, who remains on good terms with his former wife, on Thursday issued a brief statement saying he accepted the Constitutional Court’s ruling.
His presidency has been rocked in recent months by his sacking of two finance ministers within days, and allegations that a wealthy business family had so much influence that they could appoint ministers.
Pravin Gordhan, the current finance minister, vowed Friday to oversee a “transparent, thorough and professional” procedure to determine how much Zuma would have to pay back over the home upgrades.