The Constitutional Court of the Republic of South Africa has ruled that the country’s president, Jacob Zuma breached the constitution after he failed to repay money spent on his private home some few back.
The Constitutional Court is the highest court of South Africa established in 1994. The duty of the court is to uphold the rule of law and the constitution. The court is required to apply the law impartially, and without fear, favor or prejudice.
In 2014, South Africa’s anti-corruption body known as the public protector, ruled that Mr Zuma has used his power to take public money worth $23 million to renovate his private residence in his native village of Nkandla, KwaZulu-Natal province.
The public protector recommended that part of the money should be paid back. President Zuma denied any wrong doing, failing to pay the money as recommended by the public protector.
This prompted two opposition parties in the country, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and the Democratic Alliance (DA), to go to the court for interpretation of Mr Zuma’s action.
All 11 judges who sat on the case at the Constitutional Court ruled unanimously, stating president Zuma has violated the constitution by failing to follow the recommendation made by the public protector.
Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng said the public protector was a “Biblical David” fighting against the Goliath of corruption. Justice Mogoeng also said Mr Zuma’s failure to repay the money was inconsistent with the constitution.
Mr Mogoeng also added that public officials ignored the constitution at their peril, and should remember that the rule of law is the sharp and mighty sword that stands ready to chop the ugly head of impunity from its stiffened neck. BBC quoted him as saying “The president failed to uphold, defend and respect the constitution.”
The court then gave the treasury 60 days to determine how much Mr Zuma should repay to the country. Observers say the ruling is a big victory for the opposition, and anti-corruption campaigners. The two opposition parties which sent the matter to the Constitutional Court, have said they will push for Mr Zuma’s impeachment in parliament.
Jacob Zuma succeeded Thabo Mbeki as South Africa’s third democratic elected president. His term has been marred by allegations of corruption and cronyism. Anti-corruption campaigners have demanded that he step aside from the presidency due to his failure to deal with corrupt practices in the government.
The African National Congress (ANC), a predominantly black political party, has ruled South Africa since the end of Apartheid. Both Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki won the president on the ticket of the ANC.
A spokeswoman for the ANC told reporters after the ruling that the party’s top hierarchy will meet to discuss the implications of the ruling. An official government statement on the ruling also said Mr Zuma would reflect on the judgement and take appropriate action.
A former top ANC official, Mathews Phosa called for the resignation of Mr Zuma. He said “The whole country now waits with bated breath to hear whether he, and my party, the ANC, will do the right thing and relieve us of this crippling nightmare.”
Many South Africans welcomed the ruling, celebrating the independence of the Constitutional Court. They say the court has shown that it will protect the public from the abuse of power, and will not be a political crony of the government.
In 2015, protesters marched in Pretoria, Cape Town and Durban, denouncing rampant corruption in the country. The anti-corruption activists said the march was in support of transparent funding models for the country’s political parties. Protesters demanded that state-owned enterprises should stop being used to benefit corrupt individuals in the government. Activists said since the ANC took over, corrupt officials have stolen a staggering $50 billion in the country.
The ruling has therefore given anti-corruption campaigners some boost to continue their fight against corruption, demanding accountability from the government and other bodies in charge of public properties.
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