Zuma Concedes on Home Upgrade Costs, Lawyer Warns on Impeachment

Zuma Homestead

Jacob Zuma’s homestead in Nkandla, South Africa in 2014.

Photographer: Marco Longari/AFP via Getty Images
  • Home improvement included amphitheater and swimming pool
  • Malema says Zuma must leave office for violating constitution

President Jacob Zuma is ready to pay back some of the state funds used to upgrade his private home, his lawyer said, as he urged South Africa’s highest court not to issue any ruling that opposition parties could exploit to begin impeachment proceedings.

“This is a delicate time in a dangerous year,” the president’s lawyer, Jeremy Gauntlett, told the Constitutional Court in Johannesburg on Tuesday. While the opposition Democratic Alliance and Economic Freedom Fighters parties may try to bring impeachment proceedings against Zuma, “it would be wrong that this court be put in a position to make some wide order which can be used.”

Gauntlett spoke as the court considered a lawsuit by the DA and the EFF seeking to obtain a ruling that Zuma violated South Africa’s constitution by failing to obey a finding by the nation’s graft ombudsman, the Public Protector, that he repay some of state funds spent on upgrading his home. During the hearing, thousands of protesters outside the chamber chanted “pay back the money.” The court adjourned to consider its ruling.

The case has focused national attention on the spending of 215.9 million rand ($13.4 million) of taxpayers’ money to upgrade Zuma’s home in Nkandla in eastern KwaZulu-Natal province, including on building an amphitheater, cattle and chicken enclosures and a swimming pool. The hearing takes place two days before Zuma gives his state-of-the-nation speech, which the EFF has threatened to disrupt for a second year.

The two main opposition parties are stepping up pressure on Zuma and his African National Congress as they bid to win control of some of South Africa’s main cities in local elections scheduled between May and August.

Jacob Zuma
Jacob Zuma
Photographer: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

“The president violated the constitution and there is no debate about that,” Julius Malema, the leader of the EFF, told reporters after the hearing. “Once this court makes an announcement that Zuma has violated the constitution, that’s the end of it. There’s no debate about it. If the ANC doesn’t want to remove him, we’ll go to impeach him in parliament.”

Gauntlett told the court that the president accepted that the Public Protector’s recommendations must be carried out.

“We accept that she wasn’t just making a recommendation but wanted something done,” he said. “Our stance is that it’s action we must take.”

Zuma has said in the past that he never requested the upgrade and the police minister found that the renovations were security-related.

“There’s been an abuse of public resources at an extraordinary scale by one person in a country where people can’t afford housing, health care and basic necessities,” the lawyer for the DA, Anton Katz, told the court. “It’s a breakdown of the rule of law. There’s a rule of man and a rule of law and this case is a clear example of the rule of man.”

There had been no discussion in the party’s caucus about impeaching the president, Katz said.

The ANC holds more than 60 percent of the seats in parliament, making a successful impeachment unlikely. Previous attempts by opposition parties to impeach Zuma have failed.

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