South African President Jacob Zuma offered to repay some of the funds that had been used to renovate his private residence.

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Zuma used public funds to renovate his private residence

The South African President must refund money spent on nonsecurity-related additions, court rules

Johannesburg CNN  — 

South Africa’s highest court will decide whether to rule on a case calling for President Jacob Zuma to pay back $15 million of state funds used to renovate one of his private residences.

He must repay money spent on renovations unrelated to security, the Constitutional Court said. The National Treasury will determine the amount he must repay.

Two separate cases for misuse of state funds have been brought to the country’s constitutional court by opposition parties, the Democratic Alliance (DA) and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF).

The decision caps a controversy that dates back nearly seven years, when Zuma took office for his first term.

Renovations to his home started soon after and included a swimming pool, cattle enclosure, chicken run, visitors center and amphitheater.

Opposition parties filed two cases alleging misuse of public funds over the hefty price tag.

Zuma: ‘Will reflect on judgment’

After the ruling, a statement from the South African government said Zuma “has noted and respects” the judgment.

“The President will reflect on the judgment and its implications on the state and government, and will in consultation with other impacted institutions of state determine the appropriate action,” the statement added.

The court also found the country’s National Assembly in violation for its actions regarding the investigation of the President.

“The Court thus held that the National Assembly’s resolution, based on the minister’s findings exonerating the President from liability, was inconsistent with the Constitution and unlawful,” the ruling summary said.

Jacob Zuma's private residence in Nkandla, South Africa

Investigation

Two years ago, an investigation by independent watchdog Public Protector found that Zuma spent 246 million rand ($15 million) to renovate his home in Nkandla.

The Public Protector asked Zuma to pay “a reasonable percentage of the cost” for upgrades not related to security, to be determined by the National Treasury.

However Zuma never repaid, saying the findings were merely recommendations and not legal court orders. He was cleared of wrongdoing by a police inquiry into his house which said the upgrades were made for security.

But the top court said Thursday that not all are security-related, and it ordered the National Treasury to determine the amount he must repay.

The Treasury has 60 days to file a report detailing the amount, and Zuma has 45 days after that to pay the money.

The saga has compounded public discontent towards Zuma, who also sparked outrage in December when he dismissed the well-respected finance minister Nhlanhla Nene.

Public discontent

The scandal has added to public discontent with Zuma, who’s made recent headlines for the wrong reasons, including the dismissal of Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene.

The firing came after the National Treasury refused to approve several controversial deals, including between South African Airways and Airbus, and one to fund a one trillion rand ($50 billion) nuclear deal with Russia, and was interpreted as proof of Zuma’s inclination to remove anyone that stands in his way.

The deals rejected included one between South African Airways and Airbus, and one to fund a 1 trillion rand ($50 billion) nuclear deal with Russia.

Repayment offer rejected

When things started spiraling, Zuma offered to repay some of the amount, but opposition parties pressed forward with their cases.

“Zuma must go down. Zuma must leave the office of the president,” EFF leader Julius Malema said at a press conference last week.

Malema said his party would disagree with any payment settlement without reinforcing the powers of the Public Protector.

Opposition leader Mmusi Maimane said the ruling marks “a significant day for South Africa” and called it an opportunity to begin the impeachment process against Zuma.

“It affirms the separation of powers, that the judiciary certainly can make judgments of this nature without fear of prejudice,” Maimane said. “But the second thing is that actually the President, as we’ve always maintained, always acted outside the prescribe of the law and it is a great opportunity now, we believe, to begin the process of impeaching the President.”

Malema stated that his party would not agree to any payment settlement without reinforcing the powers of the Public Protector.

Opinion: Why Jacob Zuma has turned into a lame duck president

Childhood home

Zuma, the country’s fourth post-apartheid president, was sworn in for a second term in May.

The house in Nkandla is where Zuma was born and spent most of his life.

Complaints about the renovations date to as early as 2009, the Public Protector’s report shows, when the funds in question totaled 65 million rand ($4 million), but the upgrades carried on until it ballooned to 246 million rand ($15 million).

At the time, the funds in question totaled $4 million. But the upgrades progressed, and the amount ballooned to $15 million.

CNN’s Brent Swails reported from Johannesburg, and Faith Karimi wrote from Atlanta. CNN’s Dakota Flournoy, Tiffany Ap and David McKenzie contributed to this report.