Opposition says ‘No’ to Zuma’s payback offer

Friday February 5 2016

South African President Jacob Zuma, enters the Pietermaritzburg high court outside Durban, August 5, 2008. South African opposition protesters on Tuesday marched on the country’s Constitutional Court in Johannesburg, where judges heard a case over public money spent on President Jacob Zuma’s private house. PHOTO | AFP

South African President Jacob Zuma, enters the Pietermaritzburg high court outside Durban, August 5, 2008. South African opposition protesters on Tuesday marched on the country’s Constitutional Court in Johannesburg, where judges heard a case over public money spent on President Jacob Zuma’s private house. PHOTO | AFP REUTERS

By PETER DUBE
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South Africa’s opposition parties have rejected President Jacob Zuma’s proposal to pay back some of the money spent on non-security upgrades at his rural Nkandla home in KwaZulu-Natal province.

The Nkandla saga in which the cost of the repairs ballooned to $23 million from the initial estimate of $6 million in 2009 has dominated Mr Zuma’s second term as South Africa’s president.

In November, the opposition Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and the Democratic Alliance (DA) parties took the matter directly to the Constitutional Court.

But on Tuesday night, President Zuma said he would be willing to pay back an amount determined by Auditor-General Thembekile Kimi Makwetu and Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan through an order of the constitutional court.

NON-COMPLIANT

The DA was first to respond to the proposal with its leader, Mr Mmusi Maimane, contending that the contents of his settlement offer did not comply with the remedial actions ordered by the public protector’s office.

“We contend that the president designating the auditor-general to come to a determination as to how much he is liable is the latest attempt to establish a parallel process‚ for a fifth time‚“ Mr Maimane said.

The EFF is scheduled to address the media on its position regarding the report, but by Thursday morning was yet to respond to the letter President Zuma sent tabling his proposal.

Another opposition party, the Congress of the People (Cope), also objected to the proposal. 

Cope spokesperson Dennis Bloem said they found it hard to believe that the president was saying to the court that he wanted “finality in the matter of the public protector’s report”. 

Said Mr Bloem: “His act of ridiculing opposition MPs in parliament should be played before the court to reveal his true inclination on the matter. He still wants to kick the can down the road.’’

PUBLIC PROTECTOR WELCOMED MOVE

However, South Africa’s Public Protector Thuli Madonsela has welcomed President Zuma’s proposal, but said there were various issues about the president’s proposal which her office and legal team wanted to consider.

Ms Madonsela’s response is important because it was she who in 2014 ruled the $23 million spent on the renovations was unwarranted and ordered the president to settle some of the costs.

On Wednesday, she met with her legal team to discuss Zuma’s surprise proposal.

The public protector’s spokesperson said they would get back to the president and file their formal reply in the constitutional court in due course.

The President will make his annual state of the nation address in parliament next Thursday.

The occasion descended into chaos last year when EFF lawmakers scuffled with security officials.