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SAfrican president under fire over spending

Published on 20/10/2011

South Africa's President Jacob Zuma was at the centre of a row Thursday over the millions spent on the renovation of South Africa's government and presidential buildings.

An opposition deputy said nearly 400 million rand (36 million euros, 50 million dollars) had been spent on presidential offices and residences at Capetown and Pretoria, as well as the cabinet’s Pretoria estate.

“Such exorbitant expenditure represents just how disconnected the president is from the needs of the South African people,” said Athol Trollip, leader of the main opposition Democratic Alliance in parliament.

“At a time when millions of South Africans face rising unemployment, a lack of basic services and poor quality housing, the president has seen fit to reward himself with a series of renovations to his lavish residences.”

The money would have been better spent on housing for ordinary South Africans, he added.

Trollip issued his statement after receiving a series of parliamentary replies from the public works ministry Wednesday.

“This is a leader who shows little regard for the plight of South Africans, and little respect for the prudent way in which state funds should be managed,” he said.

Zanele Mngadi, a spokesman for Zuma, said the work had been done at the initiative of the public works ministry.

“The president is not implicated in these renovations,” she told The Star.

But Trollip said the president must be accountable for the spending.

“These are homes that are intended for the president’s use, and the president must account for their significant price tags. He owes the South African people a full explanation,” he said

The work included overhauling the interior of the presidential residence in Pretoria including its swimming pool, sauna and security system at a cost of 168 million rand.

According to the latest government figures, published in August 2010, 21.5 percent of the population live in shanty towns in the Gauteng region around Pretoria.

Eighteen percent of South Africans live without electricity and 10 percent without running water.

Overcrowding and poor housing has also been blamed as contributory factors for the country’s high crime rate.