Pressure is growing on South African President Jacob Zuma to at least pay back some or all of $16 million of public funds he used for extravagant upgrades to his country estate. He is considering a partial reimbursement.
Julius Malema, center, leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters walks out of parliament during President Zuma's speech
Opposition lawmakers delayed the start of South African President Jacob Zuma's state of the nation address to parliament and then repeatedly interrupted the nationally broadcast speech, usually with calls of "pay back the money."
The phrase has become a mantra across the country as pressure grows on the president to pay back at least a portion of an estimated $16 million (14.1 million euros) he spent, ostensibly to upgrade his private homestead in KwaZulu-Natal province.
Mosiuoa Lekota, the leader of the Congress of the People party that split from the Zuma's African National Congress in 2008, interrupted the president as he started to deliver his speech, accusing him of violating his public oath.
"We can not listen to somebody who has broken his oath of office. He is no longer fit to lead our people," Lekota said to applause before being escorted out of the chamber.
Zuma was also repeatedly interrupted by The Economic Freedom Fighters, led by Zuma's former political ally Julius Malema.
"Zuma is no longer a president that deserves respect from anyone," Malema cried, before also being led out of the chamber. "He has made this country a joke and after that he has laughed at us.
"We are doing what we are doing because we do not recognize him as our president," he added.
Swimming pool, amphitheater and visitor's center
As president, Zuma is entitled to spend public funds for security upgrades to his private residence.In this way he rationalized building a large swimming pool, saying it was to secure the compound against fire. His security "rationale" for building an amphitheater and visitor's center, however, is less clear.
The pressure against Zuma was ratcheted up this week after his lawyers appeared before in South Africa's Constitutional Court. There they admitted that the president had "erred in law" by not refunding taxpayers at least a portion of the millions of dollars he spent on luxury upgrades to his estate.
For years, Zuma has insisted that all of the expenses were legitimate and refused to return any public money.
Prior to Zuma's speech, Mmusi Maimane, the head of South Africa's main opposition party, The Democratic Alliance, called on the president to resign, calling it the "most appropriate pronouncement" Zuma could make during his speech.
"Our country remains on the verge of economic meltdown due to low economic growth, spiraling corruption, rising unemployment, a nationwide drought, rising inflation and failed service delivery," he said. "It cannot continue any longer."
Protests against Zuma, who has four wives and was acquitted in a high-profile trial for rape before being elected to office in 2009, were being held across the country on Thursday.
bik/sms (dpa, AFP, AP, Reuters)