S.Africa's Zuma faces relentless 'public protector'

28th August 2014, Comments 0 comments

South Africa's government-appointed public protector refused to back down on Thursday in the face of attacks from the ruling party over her allegations of corruption against President Jacob Zuma.

Thuli Madonsela told a news conference she was seeking a meeting with Zuma to discuss the "hysteria" over her confrontation with him, which has sparked speculation of a constitutional crisis.

Madonsela reported in March that Zuma had "benefited unduly" from $24 million (18 million euros) of taxpayers' money spent on so-called security upgrades at his rural home -- an amount which would buy several mansions in Johannesburg or on the beachfront in Cape Town.

Her report said he should repay some of the costs of the alterations, which included a swimming pool and other items unlikely to have a security role.

Zuma's failure to respond in time and in full to the allegations led to disruptions in parliament and a well-publicised struggle between the public protector's office and Zuma's ruling African National Congress.

"We want the public protector to do her work correctly and behave correctly," ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe told reporters in Johannesburg on Tuesday.

"Her intention to discredit the ANC and its leadership in government has been consistent," he said, suggesting she had overstepped her authority.

In response, Madonsela -- whose post is constitutionally protected -- said: "We must accept that many among us are still grappling with the meaning of the supremacy of the constitution."

"It is not surprising that we should stumble a bit as we try to make sense of the words we put in our constitution," she said.

"Even if parliament is not happy, hysteria and mudslinging is not the way to go."

- Public furore -

The ANC went on the defensive as Madonsela was giving her statement, taking to Twitter to say she "missed an opportunity" to resolve the situation.

Political analyst Ralph Mathekga said the ruling party is hoping to win back the public by hammering the ombudswoman.

"It is concerned about the public furore and how they are being seen," he told AFP.

But Mathekga says Madonsela sent a clear message to the ANC.

"The significance of the press conference today is to say there needs to be a delineation of party and government.

"The ANC, it really has no case whatsoever to assault her," Mathekga added.

Zuma had said he was passing the matter on to Police Minister Nkosinathi Nhleko -- appointed by the president -- to decide whether he should repay any money.

The scandal intensified when a letter Madonsela wrote to Zuma warning him against ignoring her recommendations and criticising him for passing the buck to the police was leaked to local media.

Madonsela said it was not her office but a "senior politician" that leaked the document.

In the past, Zuma has been charged with corruption -- for which the charges were dropped -- and rape -- for which he was acquitted -- without seeing a dent in his popularity.

But the costly upgrades to his rural home have struck a nerve among South Africans who are struggling to carve out a better life in a country with a 25 per cent unemployment rate and widespread poverty.

ANC opponents are scoring political points on the issue, according to analyst Mathekga.

"The opposition parties have made this a bread and butter issue," he said.

"They framed this thing, saying 'The reason why you don't have a house is because the president took your money.'"

© 2014 AFP

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