South Africa’s Zuma accused of spending millions of taxpayer dollars
Watchdog says president spent HK$177m turning his home into 'display of opulence'
The Guardian in Pretoria
Jacob Zuma, the president of South Africa, faces calls for his resignation after an anti-corruption watchdog found 246 million rand (HK$177.53 million) of taxpayers' money had turned his private home into a display of "opulence on a grand scale".
The report, released on Wednesday after a two-year investigation, accused Zuma of unethical conduct and told him to repay the costs of a pool, amphitheatre, visitor centre, cattle enclosure and chicken coop built as part of a state-funded security upgrade. The findings are damaging just seven weeks before Zuma's African National Congress goes into the most hotly contested election since the end of apartheid.
Zuma's homestead near Nkandla in KwaZulu-Natal, his political stronghold and one of South Africa's poorest provinces, has been at the centre of a long political controversy dubbed "Nkandlagate". He has insisted he paid for new buildings there out of his own pocket while the government funded security improvements after his election as head of state in 2009.
But according to public protector Thuli Madonsela's 444-page report: "This was not true. It is common cause that in the name of security, government built for the president and his family a visitors centre, cattle kraal and chicken run, swimming pool and amphitheatre. The president and his family clearly benefited from this."
While villagers do not have access to electricity or running water, the Nkandla project "leaves one with the impression of excessive and unconscionable 'Rolls-Royce' security constituting an island in a sea of poverty".
Madonsela, a lawyer, found Zuma's neighbours were ordered to move home without proper authorisation, costing the state millions more.
She accused Zuma of conduct "inconsistent with his office" and violating the executive ethics code by failing to protect state resources.
In November, Zuma told parliament he had decided to expand his home and fence it off. "My residence in Nkandla has been paid for by the Zuma family," he said.
"All the buildings and every room we use in that residence, was built by ourselves as family and not by government."
Madonsela did not this was a deliberate attempt to mislead MPs. "I have accepted the evidence that he addressed parliament in good faith and was not thinking about the visitors centre, but his family dwelling, when he made the statement," she said. "It appears to have been a bona fide mistake and I am accordingly unable to find that his conduct was in violation of ... the executive ethics code."
But she ordered Zuma to pay a "reasonable percentage" of the cost of the renovations not related to security.