President Jacob Zuma has become “dangerous to South Africa”, which is at risk of slipping into a dictatorship, according to the main opposition party’s newly elected leader, who says Zuma must be held to account by the South African parliament. Speaking to Newsweek, Mmusi Maimane, who became the traditionally white Democratic Alliance’s (DA) first black leader last week, says the South African president has behaved improperly in responding to allegations that he used 246 million rand (€19m) of public funds to extend his private residence.
Last year, Zuma faced calls for his resignation after public prosecutor Thuli Mandonsela called for him to repay public funds used to extend his residence in Nkandla, which lies in one of the poorest provinces in South Africa, KwaZulu Natal.
The prosecutor found that money diverted from inner-city regeneration projects to fund the extensions and the building of a swimming pool was justified as a firefighting security measure. Members of the radical leftwing Economic Freedom Fighters party were ejected from parliament in February in chaotic circumstances after asking Zuma when he intended to repay the funds, to which Zuma failed to respond. The president has been accused of avoiding parliament after appearing only once in 2014 following his re-election last May.
“Once any leader rises above the institutions, then you create a formula for dictatorship,” says Maimane.
“If he stops showing up to parliament or dismisses parliament then he becomes a law unto himself and dangerous for South Africa.”
The ANC’s national spokesperson, Zizi Kodwa, told Newsweek that the president had answered questions about Nkandla on numerous occasions and that investigations into the affair had been carried out by independent state institutions.
“Nobody, regardless of their position in government, is above the law in South Africa. Mr Maimane as the leader of the opposition should know that,” says Kodwa.
A report by the South African police minister assessing Zuma’s liability for the Nkandla scandal is due to be released to parliament next week.
Maimane takes the reins of the DA from Helen Zille, a former journalist and anti-apartheid activist. The party, which won its highest ever share of the vote with 22% in last year’s elections, has been dogged by accusations that it represents the white former ruling classes of South Africa.