JOHANNESBURG - Lawyers for South African President Jacob Zuma have admitted the president erred by not paying back at least some of the $15 million in government money used to pay for upgrades at his private home. The admission came in front of South Africa's Constitutional Court, which is considering whether the president disobeyed the country's public protector when he refused to pay.
Last year, President Jacob Zuma angered opponents when he defied an order to pay back $15 million used for upgrades at his home in KwaZulu-Natal province. The upgrades included a swimming pool, an ampitheater and a chicken run.
Lawyers for two opposition parties, the Democratic Alliance and Economic Freedom Fighters, told the court Tuesday by refusing to pay Zuma undermined the office of the public protector.
Zuma’s legal team agreed, saying the president is now ready to pay at least part of the money if the court rules he must.
Both teams also agreed the orders of the public protector are binding and have to be carried out, except in cases where they are under court review.
The sides are now waiting for the court's ruling in the case.
Lawyer William Trengove, who represented the Economic Freedom Fighters, is confident judges will rule in their favor.
"Every single matter that we wanted a ruling on has been now traversed in court and we got a distinct impression and setting from the line of questioning of the justices that we are going to get at least, if not all the orders we want, then at least the most important ones," said Trengove.
Democratic Alliance spokesperson Refiloe Ntsekhe welcomed Zuma's admission he disregarded the public protector.
"We think Mr. Zuma should actually just go to prison. He still has the 700 charges, which were basically put under the carpet. He needs to step down and then face the music with those 700 charges," said Ntsekhe.
There was no public reaction from the president, who was not in court Tuesday.
Outside the court, thousands of opposition supporters demonstrated against the president.
Legal experts say a ruling forcing Zuma to pay back the money would not only be a victory for the opposition, but would also strengthen the position of those who want him impeached.