South African President Jacob Zuma has revealed criminals broke into his rural homestead more than a decade ago and raped his wife.
Zuma made the admission as he explained a US$23 million taxpayer-funded security upgrade ahead of elections today.
He said the culprits were "arrested, charged, convicted" over the previously unpublicised incident at his Nkandla homestead in KwaZulu-Natal before he took over as president in 2009.
Zuma did not say which of the four wives he had at the time was the victim. One has since committed suicide and he has divorced the African Union chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
Zuma, 72, has been strongly criticised over the spending ahead of today's poll. He is expected to win a second five-year term despite the scandal. "There were issues that had called for security, particularly in my homestead," Zuma said.
"My homestead was burned twice during violence. And secondly my wife, criminals came, raped my wife during the time I was still the MEC [member of the executive council]... [or] probably I had become deputy president.
"So the issue of security at Nkandla has not been a theoretical issue. Further, there was a court case about it. So those who say you need security, it's not because it's just a normal thing. Two serious incidents had happened to my home. One, burning it, not once, twice.
"Second, break in by criminals, raping my wife. They were arrested, charged, convicted.
"And people who are in government, once Zuma became the president, they had to raise the level of security to that of a president. I don't think there's anything abnormal about it."
The rape incident was known to many South African journalists, but was not made public because of laws protecting the identity of rape victims.
But in 1998, the national broadcaster SABC did report that Zuma's wife was assaulted when a group of men broke into their home and escaped with some of the family's belongings. A public watchdog in March found the president had unduly benefited from the Nkandla renovations, which included a swimming pool, a helipad and a private clinic, and ordered him to pay back part of the costs.
"Why should I be charged for it if some people inflated prices?" he hit back on Monday.
He said the issue had been stirred up by the media and rival parties. "People don't think the Nkandla is an issue to affect [African National Congress] voters," he said.
A recent poll showed more than two thirds of young South Africans believe Zuma should resign over the Nkandla scandal.
But the anti-apartheid past of the ANC is likely to be enough to give the party another election landslide. "We think the ANC will win overwhelmingly, not just by the skin of its teeth," Zuma said.
High joblessness and poverty levels, as well as a succession of government corruption scandals, are unlikely to reduce support for the ANC, which has won each of the four elections since apartheid ended in 1994.
Official figures released on Monday showed unemployment had risen to above 25 per cent for the first time in almost a year. Unofficial estimates put the figure closer to 40 per cent.
But Zuma emphasised South Africa's progress since the end of white minority rule, especially compared to its African peers.
"All the countries who got independence … not a single one has been able to deliver in the way that we have delivered," he said, while acknowledging problems in delivering basic services to poor and rural communities.
Many problems were the legacy of apartheid, which had left certain areas underdeveloped and deprived black South Africans of education, he said.
Additional reporting by The Guardian