The Constitutional Court of South Africa has ruled that president Jacob Zuma failed to uphold, defend, and respect the Constitution as supreme law of land.
Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng handed down judgement on a matter brought before the court by the EFF and DA against Zuma, regarding the long-drawn Nkandla saga.
The judgment relates to the non-security upgrades – paid for by the taxpayer – at President Jacob Zuma’s private home in Nkandla, KwaZulu-Natal.
Contrary to popular understanding, however, the matter before the Constitutional Court was not about whether Zuma should be made to pay for upgrades to his homestead – but rather about whether the Public Protector’s rulings are legally binding or not.
Mogoeng said in an unanimous judgment that remedial action ordered by the Public Protector cannot be ignored without legal consequence – and that president Jacob Zuma should have challenged the report through a judicial process before disregarding it.
The Chief Justice said that it made no sense to have an institution such as the office of the Public Protector if its reports would bore no consequence. “The Public Protector is one of the most invaluable constitutional gifts to our nation in the fight against corruption,” Mogoeng said.
If Public Protector reports were not binding, it would be incomprehensible how the office would be effective, he added.
“The Public Protector would arguably have no dignity and be ineffective if her directives could be ignored, willy-nilly,” he said.
The Chief Justice said that, while Zuma was well within his rights to question and challenge the findings, he could not simply disregard the report without a judicial challenge.
“He, like all citizens of the country, are bound by the Public Protector’s findings. All the president was supposed to do, was to comply,” Mogoeng said.
The final ruling is summarised as follows:
- The public protector’s remedial action against Zuma is binding.
- Zuma’s response to the remedial action violates the constitution and is invalid.
- National Treasury has 60 days to determine how much Zuma must pay.
- Zuma must personally pay back the money, 45 days after an amount has been determined.
- National Assembly’s ruling absolving president Zuma of the Public Protector’s findings is invalid and set aside.
- The president, the minister of police and the National Assembly must pay the legal costs.
Public Protector Thuli Madonsela published a report in March 2014 titled: Secure in Comfort, which found that Zuma had unduly benefited from the R246 million spent on non-security features at his home.
Advocate Madonsela recommended that the president should pay back “a reasonable percentage of the cost”.
However, a much criticised investigation in 2015 by police Minister Nathi Nhleko, cleared Zuma of any misconduct and said he should not have to pay back any money.
The DA and EFF were among the parties that took the matter to the Constitutional Court, arguing that the Public Protectors’ report cannot be ignored.
Last month, however, the president agreed to pay back some of the money, and proposed that a process be carried out by National Treasury in conjunction with SAPS to determine how much he owes on five features specifically mentioned by the Public Protector.
The president put the proposal forward to the courts.