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South African President Jacob Zuma Just Survived an Impeachment Vote

Facing a scandal related to $16 million in state funds spent on renovating his home, Zuma's ANC ruling party managed to shield him from impeachment efforts brought by the opposition party, but the country's economy may suffer as a result.

by VICE News and Reuters
Apr 5 2016, 6:20pm

Photo by Mike Hutchings/Reuters

South African President Jacob Zuma survived an impeachment vote in parliament on Tuesday that was launched after the constitutional court ruled that he ignored an order to repay some of the $16 million in state funds spent on his private home.

Zuma survived the impeachment efforts due to support of the ruling African National Congress (ANC), which controls almost two-thirds of the assembly. The president won with 233 lawmakers voting against the impeachment motion, while 143 voted in favor. Zuma did not attend the proceedings.

The impeachment motion was brought to the parliament floor by the Democratic Alliance (DA) opposition party, but the results came as expected with the ANC staying loyal to Zuma and voting against the motion.

Parliament began debating the motion on Tuesday afternoon. The debate was delayed for more than an hour after the opposition demanded Speaker Baleka Mbete recuse herself, stating that she was also cited in the case against Zuma.

Following consultations with lawmakers, Mbete ruled that she would preside over the debate. With the fate of the motion and the ANC's position largely expected, the opposition called out ANC for supporting the embattled president.

"Nobody in the [governing] ANC is immune from the cancer of corruption," DA leader Mmusi Maimane said during the debate.

Ahead of the vote, South Africa's ruling ANC party had reaffirmed its support for the president, reinforcing the fact that the opposition would struggle to get the number of votes needed to secure impeachment. Zuma had already secured the backing of ANC heavyweights on Friday after he apologized for failing to repay some of the funding spent on his home renovations. The leader initially claimed the construction was for security upgrades, but additions like a swimming pool have came under fire for their questionable security uses.

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In addition to the much-talked about swimming pool, the "security upgrades" also included a pen for cattle, a chicken run, and a visitors' center. The number of houses on the property, located about 15 miles south of Nkandla town, doubled between 2000 and 2010 and more have been added since then. The construction costs eventually totaled 250 million rand — valued at $16 million in today's currency rates — all paid for out of government coffers.

Public Protector Thuli Madonsela opened an investigation into the controversy in 2012 after reports were filed to her office. The findings published in 2014 said Zuma "benefitted unduly from the enormous capital investment in the non-security installations at his private residence." She also noted previous Presidents Thabo Mbeki and Nelson Mandela spent $1.1 million and $2.9 million respectively on their private homes. The report determined the president should pay back the cost for renovations that did not qualify as security upgrades.

The case heard by the Constitutional Court was brought by the opposition. The focal point of the trial was whether Zuma was obligated by the public protector report and the recommendations Madonsela made.

The constitutional court handed down the decision last week, determined that Zuma failed to uphold the constitution when he ignored previous orders from South Africa's anti-corruption watchdog, Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, to pay back some of the expense for his Nkandla compound.

"The President has apologized and that's the humility that is necessary for any leader," ANC General Secretary Gwede Mantashe said on the radio on Monday, after senior members of the party met to discuss Zuma the previous evening.

The scandal is arguably the biggest yet to hit the president, who has fended off accusations of corruption, influence peddling, and even rape since before he took office in 2009.

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While the DA and the EFF have been the most vocal in calling for Zuma to step down and pushing for impeachment, they were not alone. Prominent ANC member Ahmed Kathrada, who fought against apartheid alongside President Nelson Mandela, appealed to Zuma to listen to the people of South Africa and step down.

"Today I appeal to our president to submit to the will of the people and resign," Kathrada wrote in a letter that was picked up by local media outlets following last week's court ruling. "I know that if I were in the president's shoes, I would step down with immediate effect."

South Africa's rand currency weakened ahead of the vote, and following a warning by the central bank on Monday night that the risk of a credit ratings downgrade had increased.

After the parliament session, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan stressed that financial ratings agencies will take the political situation in South Africa into account when reviewing its credit rating, Reuters reported. The economic outlook in the country has slowed, the unemployment rate is at 25 percent, and its rating was moved to review status by Moody's credit rating agency.

"Politics, economics and the fiscal situation are all things ratings agencies watch out for. South Africans should be aware of that," Gordhan said.