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Africa

S. Africa's top court hears Zuma case

In South Africa, a long-running scandal over publicly-funded upgrades to President Jacob Zuma's private residence has landed in front of the Constitutional Court. During the hearing, protestors were marching outside.

South Africa's Constitutional Court heard a case against President Jacob Zuma in Johannesburg on Tuesday, in which he stands accused of violating the constitution in a scandal over the spending of public money on his private residence.

The 73-year-old South African leader was not in court.

The case was brought by opposition parties, the Democratic Alliance (DA) and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), and the proceedings were shown on live television.

Several hundred protestors from the EFF marched through Johannesburg to the court chanting "Pay back the money" and "Zuma must fall."

'Benefited unduly'

The upgrades to Zuma's home in the village of Nkandla in KwaZulu-Natal province were valued in 2014 at 216 million rand (then $24 million, 17 million euros). They have become a symbol of alleged corruption and greed within the ruling African National Congress (ANC).

Jacob Zuma's private Nkandla residence

South Africa's ombudswoman ruled that Zuma had 'benefited unduly' from improvements to his Nkandla residence

Among what was supposed to be security work to Zuma's private compound was a swimming pool described as a fire-fighting facility, a chicken run, an amphitheater and a visitors' center.

Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, the country's ombudswoman, ruled in 2014 that Zuma had "benefited unduly" from the work on his property and said he should pay back some of the funds.

After steadfastly ignoring this demand, Zuma did a U-turn last week and agreed to pay back some of the funds in an apparent attempt to end the scandal.

But neither the DA nor the EFF were prepared to drop their case at the Constitutional Court.

Wim Trengove, a lawyer for the EFF, said that, in defying the public protector, Zuma "had violated his duties under the constitution."

The South African president also "didn't recognize that her orders enjoy any status beyond that of recommendations," he added.

Nkandla and democracy

Anton Katz, a lawyer for the DA, said the case went far deeper than the question of the public protector's powers. "It goes to a systemic failure of government in general," he told the court.

EFF members protesting outside the Constitutional Court in Johannesburg

EFF members protesting outside the Constitutional Court in Johannesburg during the Nkandla expenses hearing

"There has been an abuse of public resources at an extraordinary scale for the benefit of one family in a country where most families can barely afford food, education, healthcare and housing," Katz added.

Daniel Silke, an independent political analyst based in Cape Town, told DW's AfricaLink radio show the case "was not just about the money. It's about the workings of democracy in South Africa."

The ANC dismissed the case as being "negatively politicised by the EFF and DA."

All parties are jostling for advantage ahead of municipal elections due later this year which could see a decline in support for the ANC, which has ruled South Africa since the end of apartheid in 1994.

Protestors calling on President Zuma to step down

Despite street protests, Zuma's presidency would appear secure because the ANC has a large majority in parliament

Zuma is under pressure because Africa's most industrialized economy is suffering from a fall in commodity prices, rising inflation, crumbling energy infrastructure, unemployment and the worst drought in more than a century.

Such issues can be expected to come to the fore when Zuma delivers his televized state of the nation address to South Africans on Thursday (11.02.2016).

Silke says the Nkandla case doesn't just spell doom and gloom.

"It is doing damage to the ruling ANC and the brand of Jacob Zuma, but ironically it is testimony to the very vibrant and relatively healthy state of South African democracy."

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