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Church leaders call for South African President Zuma to resign

South African president Jacob Zuma (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam)

A prominent South African Jesuit called for President Jacob Zuma to do the “honourable thing” and resign after a court ruling that he violated the constitution remodelling his home.

The South African Council of Churches, which includes the Southern African Catholic Bishops’ Conference, said after the ruling that it hopes Zuma will take “ownership of the quagmire he faces, consult with his political advisers and do the honourable thing in circumstances.”

South Africa’s constitutional court ruled March 31 that Zuma had failed to uphold the constitution by ignoring orders from a state watchdog agency that he repay some of the £11.2 million ($16 million) in state funds spent on upgrades to his private residence.

Father Russell Pollitt, director of the Jesuit Institute, said that South African can celebrate that the courts are functioning effectively, but he said the African National Congress has compromised its integrity by supporting Zuma.

He said “the church needs to be involved because these are the issues on people’s minds” and recommended that churches put together a delegation as an immediate response to the ruling party’s invitation to discuss the court’s findings.

Following the unanimous ruling by the 11-judge constitutional court, Zuma did not apologise for any wrongdoing and instead was “dishonest and blamed everyone else” in his televised address to the nation, Father Pollitt said.

Among the court’s findings are that the president “should pay back a reasonable portion of the money spent on non-security upgrades and reprimand the responsible ministers for their role in the project,” the Jesuit Institute said in a March 31 statement.

The court also criticised parliament for passing a resolution that purported to nullify the public protector’s findings on the state spending on the residence.

The Jesuit Institute said it welcomes “this balanced and well-reasoned judgment,” which “shows that in South Africa, nobody is above the law.”

The institute “urges that the court’s orders be taken seriously by all affected,” the statement said.

Upgrades at Zuma’s rural residence in Nkandla included a visitor centre, swimming pool, cattle enclosure, chicken run and amphitheater, aside from obvious security features such as accommodation for security staff, fencing and a helicopter pad.

The bishops’ conference said that South Africa “is passing through a difficult period, politically and economically, and it is only by adhering to fundamental values of good governance and integrity in public life that we will be able to face up to and overcome our challenges.”

The bishops were responding to an admission by South Africa’s deputy finance minister that he was offered the post of finance minister by the Guptas, a family of Indian-born businessmen who relocated to South Africa in the 1990s.

“Such interference seriously undermines transparent and accountable governance in South Africa and betrays our people’s struggle for political and economic freedom,” the bishops said, noting that “it is vital that high offices of state should not be compromised by the involvement of parties with commercial or personal interests.”