South African president Jacob Zuma failed to "uphold, defend and respect" the constitution when he ignored the order of an anti-corruption watchdog to repay some of the €14 million ($16 million) spent to upgrade his private home, the Constitutional Court ruled on Thursday.
After delivering a stinging rebuke to the scandal-plagued leader, the court gave Mr Zuma 105 days to repay the "reasonable cost" of non-security-related upgrades to his sprawling rural residence at Nkandla in KwaZulu-Natal.
The unanimous ruling by the 11-judge court is the latest twist in a six-year saga over Nkandla that now adds financial damage to the political wounds it has already inflicted on Zuma.
It was also a clear vindication of Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, a constitutionally mandated watchdog who was described by chief justice Mogoeng Mogoeng as a “Biblical David” fighting against the Goliath of corruption.
The uncompromising nature of the verdict - Justice Mogoeng described it as a “profound lesson” for South Africa’s young democracy - piles more pressure on Mr Zuma, already feeling the heat from a string of scandals.
Standing outside the court in downtown Johannesburg, opposition leader Mmusi Maimane told reporters Mr Zuma should be removed from office and said he would table a parliamentary motion to have him impeached.
Mr Zuma, a 73-year-old Zulu traditionalist, has been under fire since December when his abrupt sacking of finance minister Nhlanhla Nene sent the rand into a tail-spin.
The rand firmed to a near-four month high against the dollar as Mogoeng delivered his ruling.
The African National Congress’ majority in parliament will almost certainly give political cover against any attempt to impeach Zuma, but the ruling may embolden opponents within the ruling party to challenge him.
The South African governement said Mr Zuma respected a top court judgment.
“The president will reflect on the judgement and its implications on the state and government, and will in consultation with other impacted institutions of state determine the appropriate action,” the government said in a statement.