South Africa: Opposition Leader Maimane Appeals to ANC to Impeach Zuma

South African President Jacob Zuma attends the ANC's anniversary celebrations.
Opposition leader Mmusi Maimane says South Africa's ruling ANC must impeach President Jacob Zuma, pictured at the ANC's anniversary celebrations in Rustenberg, South Africa, January 9. Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

The leader of South Africa's main opposition party says the African National Congress (ANC) must abandon Jacob Zuma in order to protect the constitution.

South Africa's highest court ruled on Thursday that the president and ANC leader had violated the constitution over state-funded upgrades to his homestead in Nkandla, in the coastal province of KwaZulu-Natal. The Constitutional Court ordered Zuma to pay back some of the 246 million rand ($23 million at the time) spent on upgrading Nkandla and gave the treasury 60 days to determine exactly how much Zuma should repay.

Speaking exclusively to Newsweek from the court in Pretoria, Mmusi Maimane, leader of the Democratic Alliance (DA), says that ANC members who believe in the country's constitution must back his motion to impeach the president. "I don't think any right-thinking human being is able to stand up today and say 'We will defend Zuma,'" he says. "It would be wrong and an offense to the people of South Africa."

According to South Africa's Constitution—the supreme law of the land since its approval in 1997—the president can be removed on the grounds of "a serious violation of the constitution or the law" if a motion to that effect is passed by the National Assembly with a two-thirds majority. The ANC currently controls 249 of the 400 seats in the Assembly and the DA would require at least 267 votes in favor for their motion to be passed.

Maimane says his party will work with other parties on the motion—including the left-wing Economic Freedom Fighters, whose leader Julius Malema is a vocal critic of Zuma. But Maimane also says that ANC members who value the oath of office they took to defend the constitution upon entering the assembly must leave aside party political ties.

"Those in the ANC who believe in the defense of the constitution must stand with us, and those who don't believe in the constitution and the rule of law must go a separate way with Jacob Zuma," says Maimane.

The ANC said that it "has noted and respects" the judgment of the Constitutional Court and will "study it in detail and comment further in due course."

Newsweek tried to contact ANC spokesperson Zizi Kodwa for further comment but received no reply. ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe said that the DA sought to have the president impeached every year.

The Nkandla scandal has proven to be a thorn in Zuma's side ever since South Africa's Public Protector Thuli Madonsela issued a report in March 2014 saying that the president had "benefited unduly" from state-funded upgrades to his property, which include a swimming pool, cattle enclosure and amphitheater.

Jacob Zuma's Nkandla homestead in South Africa.
Jacob Zuma's homestead Nkandla in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, January 21, 2014. South Africa's highest court has ruled that Zuma should pay back some of the state money spent upgrading his home. MARCO LONGARI/AFP/Getty Images

Zuma steadfastly refused to comply with Madonsela's recommendation that he pay back some of the funds until February, when the president's lawyer admitted in court that Zuma had made a mistake in ignoring the report. Commenting after the Constitutional Court ruling, Madonsela said it "restored hope in the constitutional dream" for ordinary South Africans who need "to rely on the public protector to hold government accountable for improper conduct."

Maimane says that the Public Protector's role is sacrosanct and that the ruling set an example for other countries across Africa. "It's a critical message to Africa and Africans that we have a judiciary in South Africa that will not be co-opted," he says.

There was speculation that the ANC could back a motion of no confidence against Zuma ahead of local government elections in South Africa later in 2016, but this seemed to be quashed after the ANC expressed its "full confidence" in Zuma following a meeting of its National Executive Committee (NEC) earlier in March. Following the Constitutional Court ruling, Mantashe said the ANC leadership would decide whether to call a special meeting of its NEC to consider the implications of the decision.