South African opposition protesters on Tuesday marched on the country’s Constitutional Court in Johannesburg, where judges heard a case over public money spent on President Jacob Zuma’s private house.
The upgrades at Zuma’s homestead, which were valued in 2014 at 216 million rand (then $24 million), have become a symbol of alleged corruption and greed within the African National Congress (ANC) government.
Among the supposed security work was a swimming pool described as a fire-fighting facility, a chicken run, a cattle enclosure, an amphitheatre and a visitors’ centre.
Several hundred protesters from the radical Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party marched through the city to the court, chanting “Pay back the money” and “Zuma must fall”.
Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, the country’s ombudswoman, ruled in 2014 that Zuma had “benefited unduly” from the work on his Nkandla property, and she said that he should pay back some of the funds.
“The president’s defiance of the public protector violated his duties under the constitution,” Wim Trengove, a lawyer representing the EFF, told the court on Tuesday.
“He doesn’t recognise that her orders enjoy any status beyond that of recommendations.”
In a U-turn ahead of the court hearing, Zuma last week agreed pay back some money, in an apparent attempt to end the two-year scandal.
But the two main opposition parties — the Democratic Alliance (DA) and the EFF — declined to drop their Constitutional Court bid.
“This case goes far deeper than the question of the public protector’s powers,” DA lawyer Anton Katz told the court. “It goes to a systemic failure of government in general.
“There has been an abuse of public resources at an extraordinary scale for the benefit of one family in a country where most families barely can afford food, education, healthcare and housing.”
The court held a one-day hearing on Tuesday, with a judgement expected at a later date.
The ANC dismissed the case has being “negatively politicised by the EFF and DA”.
All parties are jostling for advantage ahead of municipal elections due later this year that could see a fall in support for the ANC, which has ruled since the end of apartheid.
The president, who has often been accused of allowing corruption to flourish since he came to power in 2009, is under pressure over South Africa’s sharply slowing economy.
He will make his annual state of the nation address in parliament on Thursday.
The occasion descended into chaos last year when EFF lawmakers scuffled with security after interrupting him to protest over the Nkandla scandal.
Zuma had previously said he did not order the upgrades to his property in rural KwaZulu-Natal province, while an enquiry by the police minister last year concluded that the work was all security-related.
The police minister said that the swimming pool was actually a “fire pool” needed to fight any blaze at the mainly-thatched compound, and the cattle kraal and chicken run were to prevent animals tripping motion detectors.