- South African president has 45 days to reimburse taxpayers
- Top court ruled Zuma failed to safeguard public funds
South African President Jacob Zuma should refund taxpayers about 7.81 million rand ($510,000) that was spent on upgrading his private rural home, the National Treasury said.
The Constitutional Court ruled March 31 that Zuma “failed to uphold, defend and respect the constitution” when he refused to abide by Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s directive to repay some of the 215.9 million rand spent on renovating his home at Nkandla, in the eastern KwaZulu-Natal province. The court ordered the Treasury to determine the extent of the president’s liability for non-security-related features, including a swimming pool and cattle enclosure, within 60 work days.
Two firms of quantity surveyors were used to help determine a reasonable cost of the upgrades and what percentage should be paid by the president, the National Treasury said in the report filed with the court on Monday.
The Presidency received a copy of the report and will comment after studying it, Zuma’s office said in an e-mailed statement.
“Of course the amount that he’s going to be required to pay is not going to match the extent to which the state is out of pocket,” Daryl Glaser, a politics professor at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, said by phone. “But symbolically, its very important that the Public Protector should have been seen to get her way and that her recommendation should have been taken seriously and enforced. Provisionally, it is a victory for democracy.”
Zuma, 74, has 45 days to make payment once the proposal is approved by the court. While the president apologized for the frustration and confusion the scandal had caused, he said he never intentionally did anything illegal. The costs also relate to payments for structures including an amphitheater, visitors’ center and a chicken run.
Zuma, a former intelligence operative who’s ruled Africa’s most-industrialized economy since May 2009, has been implicated in a succession of other scandals. Prosecutors spent eight years probing allegations that he took 4.07 million rand in bribes from arms dealers and brought 783 charges of fraud, corruption and racketeering against him. On June 24, the High Court denied the National Prosecuting Authority permission to appeal a finding that it erred when it decided to drop the case against him just weeks before he became president, opening the way for the charges to be reinstated.
While pressure on Zuma will ease once he pays back the money, it won’t disappear, Glaser said.
“People can argue that he didn’t do what he should have done in moral and constitutional terms,” Glaser said. “There will be continued pressure on him and on parliament to impeach him on the grounds of past behavior. The story has now gone beyond simply the question of whether Zuma pays back some of the money. It’s become a story about the integrity and credibility of Jacob Zuma as president.”