How the Public Protector brought a president to his knees


South Africas finance minister Pravin Gordhan tries to see the bright side. The Nkandla-verdict of the Constitutional Court shows that „government institutions work“, he said. On March 31st the Constitutional Court decided that South Africas president Jacob Zuma has to pay back part of the public money that has been used to expand his rural home in Kwa Zulu Natal. Presiding judge Mogoeng Mogoeng explained why the 2014 Nkandla-report of Public Protector Thuli Madonsela has to be respected as legally binding. Mogoeng said: „The president failed to uphold, defend and respekt the constitution.“

Zuma himself said Friday in a televised speech: „I wish to emphasize that I never knowingly or deliberatly set out to violate the constitution.“ He apologized for the „frustration and confusion“ which arose from the six year Nkandla-saga. The powerful ANC leaders demonstratively gathered behind the 73 year old president. The opposition parties announced an impeachement process. But that for they would need a two-thirds majority which is against a solid ANC majority highly unlikely. Most South African media reacted disappointed. Many asked for Zumas resignation. The young blogger Chris Fleming wrote Saturday, Zuma was an “escape artist”. Judith February from South African think tank Institute for Security Studies (ISS) wrote in an analysis of the judgment: “Zuma might survive for now, but there really is no place to hide in light of this judgment.“

One scandal follows the next

The Nkandla case joins an almost endless series of scandals surrounding Jacob Zuma. Even before he took office as president in May 2009, Zuma had to stand trial for rape. He was acquitted. But the case has not been forgotten. He had not used condom in a sexual contact with a HIV-positive woman. He then claimed before court to have protected himself from AIDS by having a shower afterwards. Cartoonist Zapiro distinguished him since consistently with a shower head, which grows from Zuma’s head.
The fact that he is married simultaneously with four women and divorced from one woman – his third wife committed suicide in 2000 – does not sit well in urban South Africa. Shortly before he became president prosecution  against him because of corrupt arms deals was dropped. However, the opposition parties have brought this before the Constitutional Court, which will decide later this year whether it was legal do drop the corruption cases in 2009.

 The President built a luxury home with taxpayer money

Since December 2009 the Nkandla affair has followed Zuma. It began harmlessly when the newspaper “Mail & Guardian” sent two reporters to Kwa Zulu Natal, to find out what his rural neighbours thought about their new president. 2013 deceased reporter Mandy Rossouw saw construction work going on and had a closer look.  During her visit she saw plans, which pointed to a remarkable extension of the estate. Even then, the construction of a health center, a guest house, a heliport and a police station were planned. Later, a swimming pool, visitor center, chicken run and cattle enclosure were added. The pool had been declared by the government as fire pool.


2012 Thuli Madonsela started to investigate the Nkandla affair despite all the hostility of the ANC and death threats against her and her staff. 2014 she presented a 447-page investigation report in which she came to the  conclusion that Zuma had used 246 million Rand (currently nearly 15 million euros) of public money to extend the estate with upgrades that had nothing to do with security for the President. Her conclusion, now backed by the Constitutional Court, was that Zuma has to pay back the illegally used taxpayer’s money. But it will be cheaper for him than for the taxpayers in the years after 2009. Because the value of the rand has fallen dramatically since the economic outlook of South Africa is considered weak. Moreover, Zuma triggered a sharp fall of the Rand in December, when he fired the respected finance minister Nhalanhla Nene and replaced him by an unknown backbencher. The ANC grandees forced Zuma after a few days, to call back experienced Pravin Gordhan, who had held the position before. Vice Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas recently even suggested that he might owe his office to the powerful Gupta family, which is well connected to Zuma, has not helped either.

Thuli Madonsela after the Constitutional Court verdict tweeted: “At times we to have to stand alone with only hope as our companion.If you stand for the truth and do so long enough hope does eventually pay.” On Saturday she added: “We all make mistakes but it is when we fail to take responsibility for or blame others for them do we fail as persons and as leaders.” Directly after the verdict she said: “Many of us will appreciate the judgment for the rest of our lives.” Judge Mogoeng called her office a “gift of the Constitution”, and herself a David who  fought Goliath in the  government. The office of the Public Protector is a unique position to fight corruption and be an ombudsman for public interest. Ombudsmen are common in Skandinavia, but nobody has so many constitutional powers as the South African Public Protector.

The successor of Zuma could again be a Zuma

On Friday Zuma’s ex-wife, current Chair of the African Union Commission, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma announced she does not seek a second term in office. 67-year-old Zuma is regarded as Jacob Zuma’s favorite to succeed him as head of the ANC. This position is due 2017, and eventually as head of state after the election 2019. Her most important rival is Cyril Ramaphosa, currently Vice-President of South Africa. He is considered to be near to economic interests. Therefore he is controversial in the ANC.

Dagmar Dehmer

Original text: Keine Chance gegen die Anti-Korruptionskämpferin, Tagesspiegel, Berlin.