Jacob Zuma's terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day

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Story highlights

  • Jacob Zuma used public funds to renovate his private residence
  • Now South Africa's President must refund money spent on nonsecurity-related additions, court rules

(CNN)Friday couldn't arrive soon enough for South African President Jacob Zuma.

When Zuma, 73, climbed out of bed Thursday morning he must have felt like the boy in Judith Viorst's classic picture book, "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day."
    It might qualify as the worst day of his troubled, seven-year presidency.
    The nation's highest court would deal him a humiliating blow, ruling that Zuma violated the constitution when he used $15 million in state funds to upgrade his private home.
    "The constitution, rule of law and accountability is the sharp and mighty sword ready to chop off the ugly head of impunity," the court said.
    A politician loathed by many for his administration's arrogance and corruption, Zuma's day would only get worse:

    It's time to pay the piper -- and the state

    Zuma must repay money spent on renovations unrelated to security, the Constitutional Court said.
    The National Treasury will determine the amount.
    South Africans have been down this road before.
    The controversy dates back nearly seven years, when Zuma first took office.
    At one point, the Public Protector, an independent watchdog, ordered Zuma to pay "a reasonable percentage of the cost" for upgrades not related to security.
    The office left it up to the National Treasury to determine the appropriate amount.
    Jacob Zuma says he must reflect on the judgment ordering him to repay public funds spent on home improvements.
    Zuma never repaid. He insisted the findings of the office tasked with investigating official misconduct were merely recommendations, not legal court orders.
    Zuma, after all, is the President.
    Also, he was later cleared of wrongdoing by a police inquiry, which said the upgrades -- including a swimming pool and chicken run -- were made in the interest of the President's security.
    But the latest order carried the weight of the top court.
    The Treasury has 60 days to file a report detailing the amount he must pay back for the home improvements that are not security related.
    Zuma then has 45 days to make good.

    'Zumaville' will forever be widely derided.

    The home improvements on the sprawling presidential home in Nkandla, about 150 miles north of the city of Durban, will never feel the same.
    A March 2014 investigation by the Public Protector found that Zuma had spent 246 million rand, or $15 million, renovating his place shortly after he was sworn into office.
    The upgrades to the home some people derisively refer to as "Zumaville" included a swimming pool, cattle kraal, a visitors center, an amphitheater and the chicken run.
    The home of President Jacob Zuma in Nkandla, which some have derisively referred as Zumaville.
    Zuma was born and spent most of his life in the house. Of course, it was not as grand as it is today.
    His father died at the end of World War II and his mother was later a domestic worker in Durban, according to the African National Congress website.
    "Owing to his deprived childhood, Jacob Zuma did not receive any formal schooling," the site said. "Heavily influenced by a trade unionist family member, he became involved in politics at an early age and joined the African National Congress in 1959."

    For Zuma and the National Assembly: A time for reflection.

    On Thursday, a government statement said Zuma "noted and respects" the judgment.
    But the President still needs a little time to figure out how to best proceed.
    "The President will reflect on the judgment and its implications on the state and government, and will in consultation with other impacted institutions of state determine the appropriate action," the statement said.
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    The public is fed up.

    For many South Africans, the time for reflection is over.
    In a country with widespread poverty, the long-running scandal has added to the public discontent with Zuma.
    Whenever Zuma makes headlines, it's for the wrong reasons.
    Nene's firing in December came after the National Treasury refused to approve several controversial deals. The action was widely interpreted as the President's inclination to remove anyone who stands in his way.
    The rejected deals included one between South African Airways and Airbus, and another that would have funded a 1 trillion rand ($50 billion) nuclear deal with Russia.

    The opposition has had it, too.

    Zuma, the country's fourth post-apartheid President, was sworn in for a second term last May.
    In a country battling growing inequality, he pledged to focus on the economy.
    The African National Congress won last year's general election and held on to power despite economic woes, deadly mining protests and corruption allegations.
    After a turbulent first term, Zuma promised better government and accountability for shortcomings.
    Still, his problems keep coming.
    The decision Thursday followed two separate cases for misuse of state funds that were brought before the high court by opposition parties, the Democratic Alliance and the Economic Freedom Fighters.
    Last month, throngs of opposition supporters rallied outside the court. They chanted and held signs that said, "Pay Back the Money," a popular social media hashtag.
    Members of the Economic Freedom Fighters party walk out of Parliament as President Jacob Zuma delivered his state of the nation address in February.
    Facing the threat of an unfavorable court ruling, Zuma recently did an about-face. He offered to repay some of the amount spent on the renovations.
    The opposition pressed ahead with their lawsuits.
    "Zuma must go down," said Julius Malema, leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters, one of the parties that took him to court.
    Zuma's troubles finally caught up with him this week -- the beginning perhaps of many terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days.