JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South African President Jacob Zuma “failed to uphold” the constitution when he didn’t pay back some of the millions of dollars in state funds used to upgrade his home, South Africa’s Constitutional Court ruled on Thursday.
The ruling could significantly weaken the leader, who is fending off multiple accusations of alleged misconduct at the highest levels of government though he still retained the support of powerful factions in his party, the African National Congress.
The main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, said it would immediately begin impeachment proceedings against Zuma. While parliament has the power to remove him, ruling party lawmakers defeated a no-confidence vote against Zuma earlier this year.
Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng also said that parliament, which is dominated by the ANC, had failed in its obligations by not holding Zuma to account in the spending scandal.
Zuma is already under scrutiny because of allegedly improper links to the Guptas, a wealthy business family in South Africa. Questions about the extent of the Gupta’s influence have exposed some divisions within the ruling party, particularly after the country’s deputy finance minister said the Gupta family directly offered him the finance minister job in December, around the time that the incumbent, Nhlanhla Nene, was sacked in a move that rattled markets.
Speaking for South Africa’s highest court, Mogoeng said Zuma should not have ignored a state watchdog’s recommendations that he should reimburse state funds spent on his home, known as Nkandla.
Zuma “failed to uphold, defend, and respect the constitution as the supreme law of the land,” Mogoeng said.
Zuma’s office had said he was willing to reimburse some of the more than $20 million spent on Nkandla. His critics said the offer was an attempt to avoid a court hearing, and opposition lawmakers took the case to court anyway.