South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma on Friday denied having acted dishonestly when using 246 million rand (15 million dollars) in taxpayers' money to upgrade his rural home, but pledged to pay some of it back.
Zuma addressed the nation on television one day after the Constitutional Court ruled that his failure to accept a recommendation from the public protector that he repay part of the money was a violation of the constitution.
"I did not act dishonestly or with any personal knowledge of irregularities," Zuma said. He admitted that "there are many matters that could have been handled differently" and apologized "on my behalf and that of the government."
Zuma pledged to obey the court order to pay back a sum which is due to be determined by the National Treasury.
The speech disappointed many South Africans who had expected the president to announce his resignation.
The 73-year-old had come under growing pressure to step down, with the main opposition party Democratic Alliance (DA) launching impeachment proceedings against him.
The proceedings were deemed unlikely to prosper in a parliament dominated by Zuma’s party African National Congress (ANC).
The court ruling "does not give rise to a disproportionate reaction by the opposition parties or call for impeachment," ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe said.
The president had initially argued that the renovation of his rural homestead in the eastern town of Nkandla served security purposes. But the expenses also included a swimming pool, a cattle enclosure, a chicken coop, a visitor centre and an amphitheatre.
In 2014, Public Protector Thuli Madonsela - in charge of investigating misconduct in state affairs - had said that Zuma should repay part of the money.
The president initially refused to do so. Only in February did he yield to public pressure and agreed to return part of the money.
In his address to the nation, Zuma said that "it was never my intention not to comply” with Madonsela’s recommendation.
The court ruling added to Zuma's woes after his decision to fire a popular finance minister late last year sent the rand into free fall.
Allegations later surfaced that the decision had been influenced by the Gupta business family, close friends of Zuma. The president has denied reports that the Guptas are meddling with ministerial appointments.
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