Embattled South African President Jacob Zuma addressed the nation in a rambling televised speech on Friday, saying he would respect a decision by the country's top court that he violated the constitution, but refusing calls to step down amid a storm of criticism over corruption.
In an unanimous decision, the Constitutional Court on Thursday found Zuma violated the constitution by refusing to follow a graft watchdog's earlier instructions to pay back part of nearly $16 million (18 million euros) in state money spent on his private residence, and ordered the president to repay the treasury.
In a speech mixing defiance and elaborate justifications, Zuma apologized for "frustration and confusion" over his Nkandla residence, and that he never deliberately intended to offend against the constitution, an impeachable offense.
"I did not act dishonestly or with any personal knowledge of irregularities," Zuma said, adding "there are many matters that could have been handled differently."
Arguing that the court's judgment strengthened South Africa's democracy, Zuma said he would comply with the order to repay the state for non-security related updates to his sprawling KwaZulu-Natal residence.
The treasury must now calculate the costs of non-security related upgrades - which include a swimming pool, cattle enclosure, chicken run, amphitheater and visitor center - at Zuma's home within 60 days. The president then has 45 days to repay.
Calls for impeachment
Zuma's speech both disappointed and infuriated many South Africans who expected the 73-year-old leader, in power since 2009, to resign.
Zuma has already fended off allegations of corruption and influence-peddling while president, and a rape case before heading the country. He currently faces another probe over allegations that a wealthy business family influenced cabinet ministers.
The main opposition Democratic Alliance said earlier on Friday it would try to impeach Zuma, but that attempt is unlikely to succeed, as the ruling African National Congress (ANC) dominates parliament, where a two-thirds majority is required for impeachment.
"This judgment is an immense victory for democracy, for the rule of law, and for the people of South Africa," DA leader Mmusi Maimane told reporters on Friday before Zuma's speech. "It simply cannot be business as usual when President Zuma has been found to have violated the constitution."
An entrenched party
Some had hoped factions within the ANC, which has ruled South Africa since 1994 and which while led by Nelson Mandela drew up a rights-based constitution to end apartheid, would dump Zuma in the interest of democracy and good governance.
However, more than 20 years of ANC political dominance has corrupted the party and the elite, dashing the hopes of many poor South Africans for an equitable distribution of resources and opportunity.
Analysts expect the backlash from the scandal may hurt the ANC in upcoming local elections.
cw/tj (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)