- President says he never meant to breach the constitution
- Zuma says he accepts need to pay for some home upgrades
South African President Jacob Zuma accepted a ruling by the nation’s highest court that he violated the constitution, saying it strengthened democracy.
Zuma, 73, said Friday in a televised address that he would abide by the court’s ruling that he repay taxpayer money for upgrades at his private home that weren’t related to improving the property’s security.
The Constitutional Court ruled Thursday that Zuma “failed to uphold, defend and respect the constitution” because he didn’t abide by graft ombudsman Thuli Madonsela’s 2014 directive to repay some of the 215.9 million rand ($14.6 million) of taxpayer money spent on renovating his private home.
“The judgment has underscored the values that underpin our hard-won freedom and democracy,” Zuma said. “I wish to thank the court for providing clarity. I respect the judgment and will abide by it. The matter has caused a lot of frustration and confusion, for which I apologize, on my behalf and on behalf of government.”
Dissent over Zuma’s stewardship of Africa’s most industrialized economy has intensified since December when his decision to name little-known lawmaker as his finance minister in place of the respected Nhlanhla Nene sent the rand, stock and bond markets into a tailspin. Four days later, Zuma reappointed Pravin Gordhan to the post that he’d held from 2009 to 2014, after coming under pressure from ANC and business leaders.
The rand gave up most of its gains after earlier reaching the strongest level since Dec. 9, the day Zuma replaced Nene. The currency traded 0.6 percent stronger at 14.6796 per dollar by 7:52 p.m. in Johannesburg after earlier climbing to 14.6051.
While Zuma’s response to the court judgment is likely to sow divisions within the ANC, the party is unlikely to remove him until after local government elections due between May and August, according to Daniel Silke, director of Cape Town-based Political Futures Consultancy.
“He was preserving his own power rather than being accountable to the nation, constitution and his own party,” Silke said by phone from Cape Town. “It seems the ANC will tolerate him for the time being."
Zuma said that he never meant to break the law.
“I also respect the finding that failure to comply with remedial action taken against me by the public protector is inconsistent with the constitution,” he said. “I never knowingly or deliberately set out to violate the constitution.”
The court’s judgment led to calls by opposition parties for him to be impeached. Last month, two senior ANC officials revealed the Guptas, a wealthy Indian family who’re friends with Zuma and are in business with his son, had offered them cabinet posts in exchange for business concessions.
Opposition calls to impeach the president were an election ploy and were unfounded, Gwede Mantashe, the party’s secretary-general, told reporters in Johannesburg.
“We are not going to play to the gallery,” Mantashe said. “The president humbled himself and apologized to the nation.”
Zuma should have done the ‘honorable thing” and resigned, Mmusi Maimane, the leader of the main opposition Democratic Alliance said in an interview with broadcaster eNCA. Zuma’s statement was a “hollow statement from a broken president.”
Earlier Friday, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan said policy uncertainty was deterring investors in South Africa.
Africa’s most industrialized economy is set to grow less than 1 percent this year, the slowest pace since a 2009 recession, according to the National Treasury and central bank. Standard & Poor’s has a negative outlook on its BBB- rating, one level above junk. Moody’s Investors Service rates South Africa’s debt one level higher.
The ANC’s former head of intelligence, Zuma took office in May 2009, just weeks after prosecutors dropped charges against him of taking bribes from arms dealers. Since then, he’s been accused of squandering taxpayers’ money on his home upgrade and allowing the Guptas to use an air force base to transport guests to a wedding. He denies any wrongdoing.
“Any action that has been found not to be in keeping with the constitution happened because of a different approach and different legal advice,” Zuma said. “It all happened in good faith.”