, Johannesburg, South Africa, Sep 5 – South African President Jacob Zuma endured fresh criticism Tuesday as opposition parties pursued a court case to impeach him and parliament debated early elections.
The opposition petitioned the country’s highest court in an attempt to impeach the president who already is embroiled in multiple legal cases and corruption allegations.
The Constitutional Court was asked to order parliament to set up an investigation into Zuma’s conduct over publicly-funded upgrades to his private residence.
The court last year ruled that Zuma failed to “uphold, defend and respect” the constitution when he refused to comply with an anti-corruption watchdog that recommended he repay money spent on the residence.
At Tuesday’s court hearing, lawyers argued that parliamentary Speaker Baleka Mbete should launch a process to determine if Zuma was guilty of an impeachable offence.
Zuma has survived several parliamentary attempts to oust him from office, most recently last month when a vote of no-confidence against him was defeated.
The parliament on Tuesday debated a proposal by the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) calling for early elections, in another bid to force Zuma from office before the 2019 elections.
“We can’t afford another two years of this government. The ANC can no longer be trusted to govern,” senior DA lawmaker John Steenhuisen told parliament in Cape Town.
“South Africans have had enough. We need a reset,” he said
– ‘No longer trusted to govern’ –
ANC lawmaker Richard Mdakane castigated the call for emergency early elections as an attempt “to effect regime change through clandestine ways”.
The proposal was rejected with 229 lawmakers voting against it compared to 83 who voted in favour of the motion.
The 75-year-old Zuma is due to step down as head of the ruling ANC party in December, and as national president before the 2019 general election.
At the Constitutional Court in Johannesburg, opposition lawyer Tembeka Ngcukaitobi said “what we are asking the court to do is to direct parliament to consider whether or not the conduct of the president is… impeachable”.
“There should be an inquiry into the conduct of the president,” he added.
The judges said they would deliberate a ruling on the issue at an unspecified date.
Zuma fought for two years against demands that he should repay the money spent on his sprawling Nkandla homestead, until he was finally censured by the Constitutional Court.
He paid back some of the public funds spent on upgrades that included a chicken coop and a swimming pool.
In 2014, the Public Protector watchdog found that Zuma had “unduly benefited” from the multi-million-dollar refurbishment.
Zuma faces multiple legal challenges even after leaving office, with the looming threat of almost 800 corruption charges against him being reinstated over a multi-billion dollar arms deal in the 1990s.
Opposition parties, led by the Democratic Alliance and Economic Freedom Fighters, hope to benefit from Zuma’s scandals at the 2019 elections when the ANC risks losing power for the first time since coming to office in 1994.