South Africa’s Zuma faces torrent of calls to step down after court rebuke
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 but the move is likely to fail as it would require the support of a two-thirds majority in parliament.
But the attempt will keep Zuma’s misdeeds in the public eye ahead of municipal elections later this year when the ANC risks losing control of Gauteng province, which includes the cities of 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.” 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.
But Zuma loyalists fought back to defend the 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 being bandied about to replace him is his ex-wife and African Union Commission chief, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
On Friday her spokesman Jacob Enoh Eben confirmed that she will step down from the 54-member bloc when her post ends in July, amid talk of a return to politics when she returns to South Africa from the AU headquarters in Ethiopia. Zuma 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.