JOHANNESBURG (AP) — The Nelson Mandela Foundation on Tuesday sharply criticized South African President Jacob Zuma, saying “political meddling for private interests” during his tenure has weakened state institutions and poses a threat to the country’s democracy.
“It is painful for us at the Nelson Mandela Foundation to bear witness to the wheels coming off the vehicle of our state,” the foundation said in a statement that was unusual because the organization, created by Mandela, has avoided direct commentary on political disputes.
Instead, the foundation has focused on themes such as justice and equality, as well as the legacy of racism dating from South Africa’s era of white minority rule, which ended in 1994 when Mandela was elected South Africa’s first black president.
The statement came amid an outcry in South Africa over Zuma, who has lost popularity even within his own ruling African National Congress party because of a series of scandals.
One of those unfolded in court on Tuesday as government lawyers argued against the release of a state watchdog report about allegations that a business family linked to Zuma sought to influence some Cabinet post selections. “The public has got a right to this report as soon as possible,” countered Dali Mpofu, an opposition lawyer.
Opposition groups planned a major demonstration in Pretoria, South Africa’s administrative capital, on Wednesday. The rally originally was meant to coincide with a court appearance by the finance minister, who was charged with fraud in what critics alleged was a move by pro-Zuma factions against perceived opponents.
Organizers decided to go ahead with the protest even though the director of the National Prosecuting Authority dropped the charges against the minister while denying they were politically motivated.
“We have seen a weakening of critical institutions such as the South African Revenue Service, the National Prosecuting Authority and law enforcement bodies due to political meddling for private interests,” said Njabulo Ndebele, chairman of the Nelson Mandela Foundation.
Ndebele referred to another scandal in which the Constitutional Court said in March that Zuma had flouted the constitution when he didn’t pay back some of the more than $20 million in state funds used to upgrade his rural home. Zuma apologized and paid back more than $500,000, an amount determined by the national treasury.
“It is increasingly a national consensus that he has failed the test” of his constitutional obligations, Ndebele said.
The Nelson Mandela Foundation chairman did not directly call for Zuma’s resignation, as some South Africans have done, but urged the ruling party to ensure that the state is put “in safe and capable hands.”
Bongani Ngqulunga, a spokesman for Zuma, said he had not seen the statement and could not immediately comment.
Zuma retains powerful supporters in the government despite growing rifts within the ruling party, which suffered heavy losses in local elections earlier this year, partly because of public dissatisfaction with the president.
Follow Christopher Torchia on Twitter at www.twitter.com/torchiachris
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