South African President Jacob Zuma has made a U-turn in court over his refusal to repay some of the $23 million of state money used to upgrade his Nkandla home.
Jacob Zuma’s lawyer admitted the president was wrong to ignore an anti-corruption watchdog’s report to pay back money spent on features such as a swimming pool.
The opposition brought the case, hoping it will open the way for impeachment proceedings against Jacob Zuma.
Thousands of people protested outside court, shouting “Zuma must fall”.
Police put up a strong show of force, as the protesters, led by Julius Malema’s left-wing Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), marched to the court in Johannesburg.
The protest was against “corruption and cronyism” in government, the EFF said.
The main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) also organized its own demonstration.
The governing African National Congress (ANC) denounced the marches as a “political exercise”.
The opposition parties want the Constitutional Court to rule that Jacob Zuma flouted the constitution by ignoring a 2014 report by the anti-corruption watchdog, known as the Public Protector, that he should repay the money, as he had “unduly benefited” from the upgrade.
At the time, the police minister defended the expenditure as necessary security upgrades, saying the swimming pool was, in fact, a fire pool that could be used in the event a fire broke out at the residence in Jacob Zuma’s home village of Nkandla.
An amphitheatre, cattle enclosure and chicken run were also built.
Jacob Zuma’s lawyer, Jeremy Gauntlett, conceded in court that the report was “binding” on the president, and he was prepared to repay the money within 90 days.
However, Jeremy Gauntlett denied that Jacob Zuma had violated the constitution.
The hashtag #PayBackTheMoney, mirroring the slogan used by EFF members to taunt the president, has been trending in South Africa.
The case comes at a difficult time for Jacob Zuma, who has also been under fire over his handling of the finance ministry, after he sacked two ministers in a week in 2015.
Many South Africans also accuse Jacob Zuma’s government of not doing enough to tackle corruption and poverty.
The South African parliament descended into chaos as leftist lawmakers scuffled with security during a key annual speech by President Jacob Zuma.
The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), led by Julius Malema, repeatedly interrupted Jacob Zuma, demanding answers over a spending scandal.
The speaker of parliament then ordered their removal, prompting scuffles.
The largest opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, walked out in protest at their expulsion.
“You can’t send police into parliament,” said Democratic Alliance parliamentary leader Mmusi Maimane.
The EFF used President Jacob Zuma’s annual State of the Nation speech to question him about a state-funded, multi-million dollar upgrade to his private residence.
They were evicted by large numbers of security guards. Among those thrown out was Julius Malema.
Julius Malema defended his lawmakers’ actions, calling it a legitimate attempt to defend democracy, adding that seven of his party had been injured and would be pressing charges.
It is not clear whether the guards were police or parliamentary officials: an important distinction, according to one lawmaker, who said the use of police would be a way of intimidating the opposition.
Julius Malema and Jacob Zuma were once close allies but the pair fell out.
The EFF has shaken up South African politics with a series of populist proposals to redistribute wealth.
EFF lawmakers accuse Jacob Zuma of benefitting unduly from taxpayer-funded upgrades to his private residence in the village of Nkandla and they wanted the president to answer questions about this before making his state of the nation speech.
In 2014, an independent inquiry found the president had “unduly benefited” from the expensive upgrades, which included a pool and a cattle enclosure and cost about $23 million.
President Jacob Zuma has denied any wrongdoing.
Despite criticism of the Nkandla upgrade and South Africa’s stagnant economy, Jacob Zuma’s African National Congress was overwhelmingly re-elected last year.
A warrant has been issued for the arrest of South African politician Julius Malema, his lawyer says.
South Africa’s elite Hawks unit has been investigating corruption claims against Julius Malema for months, but the details of the charges are not known.
The authorities have refused to comment on reports about the arrest warrant, but lawyer Nicqui Galaktiou says they have confirmed its existence to her.
Julius Malema, 31, once a close ally of President Jacob Zuma, is now a fierce critic.
He strongly denies allegations he profited from government contracts in his home province of Limpopo.
A warrant has been issued for the arrest of South African politician Julius Malema
According to the weekly City Press newspaper, he will be charged with fraud, corruption and money-laundering.
Nicqui Galaktiou told Reuters news agency Julius Malema would appear in court next week and would not be jailed or arrested before then.
“We don’t have a confirmed date yet. We have not seen the warrant of arrest. We don’t know what the charges are,” she said.
Julius Malema on Friday afternoon said he was not aware of the reported charges and was trying to find out if the warrant had been issued.
He has become well known in South Africa for his opulent lifestyle, wearing expensive watches and living in an upmarket district of Johannesburg.
When asked where the money comes from, he says his friends gave it to him.
Asked whether he has ever been involved in any corruption, Julius Malema said: “I’ve never been involved in any corrupt activity but I wouldn’t argue with the Hawks, if they say they’ve got a case for me to answer. I will wait for them the day they come to speak to me,” he responded with confidence during a packed media conference.
Julius Malema, known for his fiery rhetoric, was expelled as head of the Youth League of the governing African National Congress (ANC) in April but has recently held several rallies in the Rustenburg area, scene of a violent mining dispute.
He has been calling for a national strike and has accused Jacob Zuma of ignoring the plight of poor black South Africans.
On Monday, Julius Malema was banned by police from addressing striking workers from the Marikana mine. The miners agreed to a pay offer the next day and have returned to work.
“Not even the president can stop me. Not even death can stop me. My ideas are out there. Even if I am no more, people will continue those ideas,” Reuters quotes him as saying at a news conference on Tuesday.
Julius Malema’s supporters will see the reported charges as a political witch-hunt, our correspondent says.
But he points out that the investigation began long before the recent strikes.
The ANC is due to meet in December to decide whether Jacob Zuma will remain as party leader going into elections due in 2014.
Julius Malema and others are campaigning for him to be replaced.
Who is Julius Malema?
• Born 3 March 1981 in Limpopo province
• Mother was domestic worker and single parent
• Joined African National Congress (ANC) aged nine
• Elected leader of its youth wing in April 2008
• Convicted of hate speech in March 2010 and September 2011
• Expelled from ANC in April 2012 for sowing divisions in party
• Toured mines following the shooting of 34 miners in Marikana by police in August 2012, urging workers to make the sector “ungovernable”
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