South Africa’s constitutional court ordered President Jacob Zuma on Thursday to pay back some of the $16 million of state money spent upgrading his private home, a stinging rebuke that hits the scandal-plagued leader financially and politically.

The unanimous ruling by the 11-judge court, a central pillar of the democracy established at the end of apartheid, said Zuma had failed to “uphold, defend and respect” the constitution by ignoring the Public Protector’s findings on his sprawling rural residence at Nkandla in KwaZulu-Natal.

In 2014, the constitutionally mandated anti-corruption watchdog identified a swimming pool, cattle enclosure, chicken run, amphitheatre and visitor centre as non-security items that Zuma must pay for.

Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng gave the Treasury 60 days in which to determine their “reasonable cost”, after which Zuma would have a further 45 days to pay.

Besides hurting Zuma, the ruling was a vindication for Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, a quietly spoken but steely lawyer described by Mogoeng as “the embodiment of the Biblical David” fighting against the Goliath of state corruption.

“The office of the Public Protector is one of the true crusaders and champions of anti-corruption and clean governance,” Mogoeng said. “Hers are indeed very wide powers that leave no lever of government power above scrutiny.”

In a short statement, Zuma’s office said it respected the ruling and would determine the appropriate action in due course.



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