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South African Court Rules President Jacob Zuma Defied Constitution


The highest court in South Africa ruled today that the country's president violated the Constitution. The case is about some $20 million that Jacob Zuma spent on what he called security updates to his private home. He's been dogged for years by allegations of corruption. From Johannesburg, Peter Granitz reports.

PETER GRANITZ, BYLINE: Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng read the ruling from the bench of South Africa's Constitutional Court. He said President Zuma acted outside the law when he ignored the recommendations of South Africa's Public Protector, a government watchdog. The protector determined two years ago that millions of dollars used for upgrades to Zuma's house including a pool, chicken coop and visitor center were not what Zuma characterized as security upgrades. The government watchdog said Zuma unduly benefited from the work and owed the state at least some of the construction costs. Chief Justice Mogoeng said the finding was legally binding and that any citizen, president or otherwise needs to respect the law.


MOGOENG MOGOENG: The president thus failed to uphold, defend and respect the Constitution as the supreme law of the land.

GRANITZ: The court will give Zuma some months to repay the state for the personal upgrades. But the financial burden may not be his biggest problem at the moment. Immediately following the verdict, opposition leader Mmusi Maimane vowed to lead impeachment hearings against Zuma in Parliament. Maimane leads the Democratic Alliance which brought the case to the Constitutional Court.


MMUSI MAIMANE: You can't have a president who's bent or bending the law breaking the Constitution of the Republic remaining in office. We will fight this battle until the very end.

GRANITZ: Zuma has proven himself a political survivor before. 10 years ago, separate charges of rape and corruption threatened to derail his route to the presidency. But he was cleared of rape in 2006, and the money laundering and racketeering charges were dismissed weeks before the vote that brought him into power in 2009. More recently, he fired a respected finance minister in December replacing him with a virtual unknown only to sack that guy four days later. The moves sent South Africa's currency into a tailspin from which it's still trying to recover. Just two weeks ago, Zuma's ANC party which he took over in 2007 helped him survive a no-confidence vote in parliament. Political analyst Ayesha Kajee says Zuma will survive this episode, too.

AYESHA KAJEE: It looks bad for the president. It looks bad for the ANC. It certainly looks bad for the country.

GRANITZ: Zuma has not said anything publicly. His office released a terse statement that says it notes and accepts the ruling. For NPR News, I'm Peter Granitz in Johannesburg. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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