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S.Africa’s ANC in damage control over Zuma home upgrades

South Africa’s ruling ANC sought Thursday to limit the damage from a damning ombudsman’s report which ruled that multi-million dollar state-funded upgrades to President Jacob Zuma’s private home were unlawful.

There was a scathing media reaction to the report, which described the $23 million spent on renovations at Zuma’s country homestead as excessive and ordered him to repay some of the costs.

“Licence to loot,” thundered the headline in The Mail and Guardian, which first broke the story about the renovations in 2009.

The African National Congress, whose popularity is flagging ahead of May 7 elections, said officials implicated in the scandal should be called to account and misspent money repaid.

But it tried to divert attention from its tainted leader, who his running for office again.

“All public office bearers, officials and private sector companies involved in any maladministration must be brought to book, and all funds that were acquired inappropriately must be recovered,” said ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe.

“When we say all, we mean all,” Mantashe told a news conference in Johannesburg, when asked if this included Zuma.

But he denounced calls for Zuma’s impeachment as a “premeditated position that has nothing to do with the report”.

South African laws are vague about the consequences of the head of state breaking the ethics code.

The main opposition Democratic Alliance has said it would start impeachment proceedings against Zuma and opened a case of corruption against him at a police station in Nkandla on Thursday.

“We have opened a case of corruption against president Zuma, based on the findings of the report and his role in the matter,” said party spokesman Mmusi Maimane.

“We believe he has a case to answer.”

The newly-founded Economic Freedom Fighters, led by the erstwhile leader of the ANC youth league, Julius Malema, also laid charges of corruption, theft, fraud and racketeering against Zuma in Pretoria.

Malema was in 2012 expelled from the ANC for fomenting divisions within the party.

Meanwhile, Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu came out in support of Public Protector Thuli Madonsela after ANC supporters criticised the report as playing into the opposition’s hands.

“The truth is that had the public protector deliberately withheld information about Nkandla she would have been guilty of a fatal bias in favour of the ruling party,” Tutu said in a statement, referring to the location of Zuma’s estate.

– ‘Heads must roll’ –

The splurge on the house — nestled in the verdant hills of Zuma’s political stronghold in the eastern KwaZulu-Natal province — has caused anger in a country where there is widespread poverty and where 10 million people live on welfare.

The lavish refurbishments at so-called “Zumaville” included a swimming pool, private clinic, visitors’ centre, amphitheatre and helipad.

“The putrid stench must stop. Prosaic proclamations of intentions to investigate are insufficient,” said The Star. “Heads must roll. Now.”

Madonsela on Wednesday ordered Zuma to repay a “reasonable percentage” of the costs of non-security upgrades at the residence but did not set a specific amount.

“The expenditure incurred by the state… went beyond what was reasonably required for the president’s security, was unconscionably excessive and caused a misappropriation of funds,” Madonsela’s report said.

The ANC criticised the timing of the report just weeks before the elections but Madonsela blamed the government for the delays.

Zuma is the ANC’s presidential candidate for the May 7 polls, where the party is expected to win the parliamentary vote with a reduced majority.

The Business Day said the ombudsman’s report served to remind South Africa that “we have a president who, at best, has very poor judgement”.

It suggested that there would not be any action by the ANC, saying “scapegoats are going to be found” but not people at the top.

The report “exposes the rot at the heart of Nkandla”, said the Mail and Guardian

“You owe us,” declared The Times, juxtaposing the report’s findings with Zuma’s pronouncements on poverty in South Africa, which he once said kept him awake at night.

Senior ANC leaders plan to inspect the homestead next week, Mantashe told reporters.