S.African president cleared over 'swimming pool' scandal

28th May 2015, Comments 0 comments

South African President Jacob Zuma will not have to repay public money spent on 'security upgrades' to his private residence that included a swimming pool and chicken run, the police minister announced Thursday.

Finding that all the upgrades were for necessary for the safety of the head of state, Nkosinathi Nhleko told a news conference: "The state president is therefore not liable to pay for any of the security features."

The spending of some $24 million on improvements at Zuma's private residence at Nkandla in rural KwaZulu-Natal province has dogged the embattled head of state in a country where poverty remains widespread 21 years after the end of apartheid.

The main opposition Democratic Alliance described the minister's finding as "an insult to the South African people" and said it would consider legal action.

Last year, the country's ombudswoman found that Zuma had "unduly benefited" from the work on his home -- which also included a cattle enclosure, amphitheatre and visitors' centre -- and recommended that he repay some of the money.

Under public pressure, the president then nominated the minister of police, who is a Zuma appointee, to determine how much, if anything, he should repay.

In a news conference that ran for nearly three hours, Nhleko made a painstaking and at times bizarre examination of the case in a long-awaited report.

He concluded that the swimming pool was a "firepool" needed to fight any blaze at the mainly-thatched compound, while the cattle kraal and chicken run were necessary to prevent the animals tripping motion detectors as they roamed about.

- Tarnished reputation -

The visitors' centre was also needed for security, he ruled, and what the public protector described as an amphitheatre was in fact a series of terraced retaining walls facing an area where residents could gather in case of emergency.

The intense scrutiny of the homestead forced by public anger over the expenditure has ironically given rise to what must be one of the most minute public examinations of security systems at the residence of any head of state.

The minister showed the press conference several videos and graphics to support his findings, including one marked 'Secret' and another of a firehose pumping water from the swimming pool, backed by a sound track of classical music.

The amount of $24 million would buy several of South Africa's most luxurious homes in the economic capital Johannesburg or on the scenic Cape coast, all of which have major security systems.

Architects and contractors have been accused of inflating costs by Zuma's supporters, while critics say he could not have been unaware of what was happening at his own home.

Minister of Public Works, Thulas Nxesi, told the news conference that disciplinary proceedings were underway against 12 public officials for misconduct over the construction.

Nhleko's report has been tabled for consideration in parliament, which has collapsed in chaos over the issue in the past, with opposition lawmakers on their feet and demanding that Zuma "Pay back the money".

Those demands are unlikely to stop, especially as Nhleko's report suggested that security at Nkandla was in fact inadequate and more work needed to be done.

The scandal has tarnished Zuma's reputation, and that of the ruling African National Congress party whch took power under the leadership of Nelson Mandela when apartheid ended.

Zuma has also denied that he had interfered with authorities to ensure there were no further investigations into 700 other corruption charges against him that were dropped shortly before he became president in 2009.


© 2015 AFP

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