Costly upgrade at South African president's private home

US$23 million upgrade to president's rural estate follows ANC leaders' pattern of aloofness

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 13 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 13 October, 2012, 4:19am

New security fences. A medical clinic. Firefighting services added for a helipad. That and other upgrades, all for South African President Jacob Zuma's home to the tune of more than US$23 million in taxpayers' money.

And it's not even an official residence - it's his rural private home.

Zuma, 70, is embroiled in a controversy over the costly additions to his house in a country where millions still lack decent homes, running water, electrical power and adequate access to health and education services.

Shadrack Gutto, a professor of African studies at the University of South Africa, said ordinary South Africans have come to expect little good from the ANC, whose top bosses have become fabulously wealthy even as millions of South Africans remain mired in poverty.

Of the costly renovations to Zuma's private residence Gutto said: "It has to be investigated. It will be a scandal when the truth comes out."

The revelations on the renovation costs of Zuma's rural compound in KwaZulu-Natal come before the ruling African National Congress' (ANC) December conference where Zuma will seek reappointment as the party's leader, and hence its presidential candidate in the 2014 national election.

Zuma's standing has already been shaken by the recent police killings of 34 platinum miners who were protesting in the wave of ongoing strikes. He is widely seen by the miners on strike as being aloof to their concerns that they are not paid enough for the difficult and dangerous work they perform.

Firebrand politician Julius Malema, ousted this year as ANC Youth League leader, said Zuma should not be allowed another term in office.

The government has refused to disclose the exact cost of work on Zuma's countryside home, but local reports said the upgrades came up to more than 200 million rand (HK$178 million).

Zuma said at a breakfast meeting on Thursday that he did not know how much the upgrades cost, that it was authorised by the Ministry of Works and was motivated by security concerns.

Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi said last week that work done on Zuma's residence was similar to that done on those of other South African presidents.

High security fences have been erected, roads upgraded, a medical clinic added and fire-fighting services developed for the helipad in the compound, according to the South African Press Association. Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Deputy Public Works Minister Jeremy Cronin also could not confirm the cost, but said the matter would be investigated for any "inexplicable overruns on costs".

Some critics say the ANC party that was once led by anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela is overly focused on political power, paying too little attention to the country's poor.

Zuma's presidency has been "marked by political problems, most notably a radical decline in the ANC's credibility," wrote Pallo Jordan, a former minister of arts and culture, in an article published in BusinessDay newspaper.

"Zuma's own actions have also stripped the office he holds of dignity. Whoever the ANC membership elects in December will have to grasp the nettle of restoring the ANC's dented credibility and dignity to the office of the president."

As some South African miners were on strike for better pay, businessman Cyril Ramaphosa, an influential ANC member who was once touted as a future leader, was bidding millions of dollars for a prize buffalo.

"Every day there is a scandal here, a scandal there," Gutto said, adding that a time would come when the party will be thrown into "the dustbin of history".

Despite the controversies, Zuma remains popular in his Zulu homeland and many say he will win another term as ANC chief.