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South Africa Opposition Dismisses President Zuma's Refund Gesture

FILE - South Africa's President Jacob Zuma gestures during a media briefing in Pretoria, Nov. 26, 2014.

South Africa's opposition Democratic Alliance party says its case against President Jacob Zuma's private house upgrade will proceed next week as originally planned, despite the president's offer to pay back some of the public funds used for the upgrade.

South Africa's public prosecutor, Thuli Madonsela, ruled in 2014 that Zuma benefited from the security upgrade of his house in Nkandla, which cost the public $23 million. The changes made to the home include a visitors center, swimming pool, helipad and cattle enclosure.

Zuma was directed to pay back a reasonable amount of the upgrade, which Madonsela said should be determined by the treasury with assistance from the police.

In a letter, Zuma proposed to refund some of the funds, but challenged who determines that amount.

Local media quoted a statement from his office as saying, "To achieve an end to the drawn-out dispute in a manner that meets the public protector's recommendations and is beyond political reproach, the president proposes that the determination of the amount he is to pay should be independently and impartially determined. … Given the objection by one of the parties to the involvement of SAPS [South African Police Service], as the public protector herself had required, the auditor general and minister of finance be requested by the court, through appropriate designees, to conduct the exercise directed by the public protector."

Accountability, vindication

Parliamentarian Jordan Lewis says his party — the Democratic Alliance — as well as civil society groups and South Africans who demanded accountability have been vindicated.

FILE - Hundreds of demonstrators gather at the end of a protest march into Johannesburg, Dec. 16, 2015. The protesters were calling for President Jacob Zuma to be removed.
FILE - Hundreds of demonstrators gather at the end of a protest march into Johannesburg, Dec. 16, 2015. The protesters were calling for President Jacob Zuma to be removed.

"It's a reflection of the profound political pressure that the president finds himself under at the beginning of 2016,” Lewis said. “He knows that the pressure on him is absolutely mounting and that he has got to do something to reposition himself more positively with the voters.

“So, after five years of trying to avoid any accountability of the huge multimillion-rand [local currency] upgrade to his house, he has finally admitted some accountability to pay back some of that money."

Arguments at the Constitutional Court on Tuesday will focus on “the supremacy and the validity of the public protector's report” and on forcing the president to comply with that report, Lewis said.

"He has left his party in a very embarrassing position,” he added, “because they have been defending him for years and have been holding the line. They are now left with the egg on their face."

Who decides?

Lewis says the party will not be deterred in seeking proper legal redress regarding the upgrade.

Lewis says it is unacceptable for Zuma not to abide by the report specifying who determines the payment amount.

"There is an important legal principle at stake here,” Lewis said. “The legal principle is that … three years ago, there was an official investigation by the public protector … and the public protector found that he did unduly benefit and that he should be made to pay back some of the money.

"Even now in his settlement letter, still he will not use the determination made by the public protector. His offer is that the auditor general should determine how much he must pay back. We are not happy with that. The public protector's ruling must stand and we are going to court to enforce that ruling."