South African president Jacob Zuma said Saturday a vote for the ruling party was a vote for the constitution, just two weeks after the Constitutional Court slammed him for flouting the country’s paramount law.
“A vote for the ANC (African National Congress) is a vote for a united, non-racial, democratic, non-sexist and prosperous South Africa; it is a vote for the Constitution,” Zuma told a crowd of tens of thousands at the launch of the party’s manifesto ahead of local elections in August.
Zuma has faced a chorus of demands to step down after the Constitutional Court ruled that he failed to uphold the constitution by refusing an ombudswoman’s orders to repay money spent on upgrading his private home.
A public television appearance only drew more anger when the president side-stepped a full apology.
“I wish to emphasise that I never knowingly and deliberately set out to violate the constitution,” he said at the time.
“The matter has caused a lot of frustration and confusion, for which I apologise, on my behalf and on behalf of government.”
The upgrades, which were valued in 2014 at 216 million rand (then $24 million), entailed non-security work at Zuma’s private rural homestead, Nkandla
The affair has become a symbol of alleged corruption and greed within the ANC, which has ruled since Nelson Mandela came to power in 1994 after the end of apartheid.
The party had expected 100,000 supporters to fill up the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in the coastal city of Port Elizabeth, but by the time the president took to the podium, estimates put the crowd closer to 40,000.
Zuma was greeted with loud cheers and applause.
Port Elizabeth is one of three major cities the main opposition Democratic Alliance is targeting in the upcoming vote.
In a statement released Saturday, DA leader Mmusi Maimane “bid farewell” to the ruling party’s legacy.
“Each generation of ANC leaders has borne an enormous responsibility to preserve the dignity and the moral integrity of the organisation,” he said.
“The current generation chose to abandon that responsibility.”
Zuma is due to retire in 2019 when his second term in office ends.
His presidency has been rocked in recent months by his sacking of two finance ministers within days, and allegations that a wealthy business family had so much influence that they could appoint ministers.