South African President Zuma has finally paid back around 500,000 euros ($542,000) of public money spent on refurbishing his private home. The controversy that dominated his second term in office raged on for five years.
South Africa’s highest court had decided earlier in the year that President Jacob Zuma had violated the country’s constitution by defying an order to repay some of the funds used to renovate his traditional homestead in Nkandla.
In March 2016, the Constitutional Court of South Africa had ruled that Zuma had “failed to uphold, defend and respect the constitution as the supreme law of the land” by refusing to hand back the funds.
The controversial upgrades to his private home in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, include a visitors’ center, a swimming pool, and a chicken run among other lavish additions. Zuma had originally claimed security was the purpose of the expenditure.
“President Zuma has paid over the amount […] to the South African Reserve Bank as ordered by the Constitutional Court of South Africa,” the presidency said in a statement, adding that the president had raised the funds through a home loan. The treasury confirmed separately that the payment had been received.
Opposition parties had been using the slogan “pay back the money” to draw attention to the corruption scandal.
‘Secure in Comfort’
The Nkandla scandal became a symbol of corruption within the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party, which has been at the helm of South African politics since the end of apartheid rule. The opposition, led by the Democratic Alliance (DA), attempted on several occasions to have the president impeached on grounds of funneling public funds into his private homestead.
The Office of the Public Protector, which occupies the role of an ombudsman between the public and the government, had determined in a 2014 report entitled “Secure in Comfort” that President Zuma had “unduly benefited” from the upgrade work to his Nkandla home, ordering him to repay a fraction of the cost. The amount determined by Public Protector Thuli Madonsela is just over 3 percent of the total amount of state funds that were spent on the president’s rural home.
Zuma ordered two government investigations to clear his name. One of them was conducted by the government police minister, who concluded that the swimming pool in Nkandla had been installed as a fire-fighting precaution. In the end, the Constitutional Court ruled against the findings of the investigations ordered by Zuma and in favor of Madonsela’s ruling.
The ANC in peril
The scandal had a notable effect on his party politics; the ANC suffered severe losses in South Africa’s local elections in August, garnering a historic low of less than 54 percent of all ballots cast.
Several municipalities fell into the hands of the DA or DA-led coalitions, and there are already talks of the ANC possibly tanking to below having an absolute majority in the 2019 legislative elections.
The opposition DA meanwhile welcomed that Zuma repaid the funds but added in a statement that Zuma ought to provide proof in parliament that he personally paid back the state, stressing that the president had “a history of tapping into his circle of cronies for funds.”