S.Africa's top court delivers Zuma impeachment blow


Johannesburg (AFP)

South Africa's top court on Friday ruled parliament failed to hold President Jacob Zuma accountable for using public money for private home upgrades, a move that could lead to impeachment proceedings.

The opposition had gone to the Constitutional Court arguing that the Speaker of parliament failed to enforce the appropriate processes to hold Zuma accountable.

He had failed to abide by recommendations made by the anti-corruption watchdog in 2014 over refurbishments at his personal home in the eastern KwaZulu-Natal province that used $15 million (12 million euros) of taxpayers' money.

The scandal came to a dramatic climax when the Constitutional Court last year found the president guilty of violating his oath of office by refusing to pay back the money.

"We conclude that (National) Assembly did not hold the president to account," said Constitutional Court judge Chris Jafta.

"The failure by the National Assembly to make rules regulating removal of the president... constitutes a violation" of the constitution, the court said.

It ordered that the National Assembly "must comply" with the constitution to make rules that could be used for the removal of the president "without delay".

Defeated in court and facing mounting public criticism, Zuma later relented and paid $500,000, a sum set by the treasury following last year's ruling.

- 'Like Saddam Hussein in a hole' -

In power since 2009, Zuma stepped down last week as president of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party after a 10 year term marked by numerous damning court judgements against him.

Friday's ruling is expected to pile pressure on the beleaguered leader to resign ahead of the end of his term as state president in 2019.

Zuma was succeeded by his deputy Cyril Ramaphosa in a tightly fought contest in which his former wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma also ran.

The ANC's deputy secretary general Jessie Duarte said the party had noted the ruling and would "discuss its full implications" when the party's decision-making National Executive Committee meets on January 10, 2018.

One of the opposition parties that took the matter to court, Congress of the People (COPE), said the ruling had left Zuma exposed and put the ANC under pressure to act against him.

"He has reached a point at which he is like Saddam Hussein in a hole and there is no other chamber to go except to come out. He's got to come out now," said COPE leader Mosiuoa Lekota.

In a statement the National Assembly said it had "already initiated a process, as part of its overhaul of rules" to put in place a procedure for removing a sitting president.