Calls for Zuma resignation intensify after Nkandla scandal apology

ANC party backs South African president after court rules he failed to uphold constitution

South African president Jacob Zuma: opposition parties and some respected ruling party members called on Mr Zuma to stand down following the court ruling against him. Photograph:  Nic Bothma/EPA

South African president Jacob Zuma: opposition parties and some respected ruling party members called on Mr Zuma to stand down following the court ruling against him. Photograph: Nic Bothma/EPA

 

Calls for South Africa’s president, Jacob Zuma, to quit following a court ruling that he failed to uphold the constitution by ignoring a corruption watchdog’s Nkandla findings, have only increased since his recent apology to the nation.

While Mr Zuma denied acting dishonestly on Friday night in the scandal over improper state spending at his private home in Nkandla, KwaZulu-Natal Province, he apologised and said he would pay back some of the money, as ordered.

On Thursday the constitutional court ruled Mr Zuma had failed to “uphold, defend, and respect” the constitution by not repaying taxpayers’ money used for non-security upgrades to his rural home, as recommended by public protector Thuli Madonsela in her investigation into the matter.

Opposition parties and some respected ruling party members called on Mr Zuma to stand down following the ruling, and public expectations were high he might when government announced Friday evening the president would shortly speak to the nation.

Afterwards, the African National Congress (ANC) party backed its leader, saying his removal from office was not on the cards, as he was only human and therefore bound to make mistakes.

“We are not a party of saints, we are a party of human beings. From time to time [we] will commit mistakes,” ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe said in a bid to draw a line underneath the saga.

Mr Zuma’s long-time supporters in the ANC, including the ANC’s women’s and youth leagues, have recommitted their support for him, as have provincial party structures that have backed him in the past.

However, rather than placate South Africans and have a general unifying effect, Mr Zuma’s speech has since prompted more party stalwarts; its alliance partner, the South African Communist Party (SACP); and a government union to speak out against him.

On Sunday, the SA National Defence Union called for Mr Zuma’s lawful removal from office, saying he is no longer fit to be the commander-in-chief of the defence force.

ANC anti-apartheid hero Ahmed Kathrada, one of the late Nelson Mandela’s closest friends and confidants, added his voice to the numerous calls for Mr Zuma to resign in a letter to the president. “I know that if I were in the president’s shoes, I would step down with immediate effect,” he said.

The SACP has also reportedly said Mr Zuma’s apology is not enough, and has called for a broader inquiry into the Nkandla matter in light of the president admitting it could have been handled differently.

International calls for Mr Zuma to resign are also emerging. In a damning editorial, the New York Times said it’s time for the ANC’s most senior members to withdraw their support for Mr Zuma, and for him to step down.

“It is a shame that the ANC, the party of Nelson Mandela, is allowing its moral and political authority to be so grievously eroded by Zuma, instead of bringing his corrupt presidency to an end,” the newspaper said.

The months ahead also look precarious for Mr Zuma despite the party’s efforts to dilute the seriousness of Thursday’s constitutional court ruling. Aside from facing impeachment proceedings instigated by the main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) party, other scandals continue to swirl around his presidency.

In a few months’ time the DA’s court application to have more than 700 corruption changes reinstated against Mr Zuma will be ruled on, while his relationship with businessmen the Gupta brothers is under investigation because of allegations it is corrupt.

In addition, local elections will take place before mid-August, and opposition parties will no doubt milk the constitutional court’s ruling on their campaign trails. Any significant loss of support for the ANC will only undermine his presidency further.