S.Africa's Zuma under fire for home 'security' revamp

29th November 2013, Comments 0 comments

South African President Jacob Zuma personally benefitted from controversial "security" renovations at his private home and must repay the state, a government watchdog report leaked to a local newspaper said on Friday.

The government spent at least 200 million rand ($20 million) to revamp Zuma's rural home, including adding a swimming pool, an outdoor amphitheatre, a marquee area, a visitors' waiting area, a cattle enclosure, houses for the president's relatives and "extensive" paving, said the report cited by South Africa's weekly Mail & Guardian.

The government justified the works -- which also featured two helipads, a clinic and housing for a police protection unit -- as necessary security improvements for a head of state.

But the as-yet unpublished report, titled 'Opulence on a Grand Scale' and drafted by Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, found that Zuma derived "substantial" benefit from the deal.

Some of the so-called security upgrades were "improperly" weaved into the project at "enormous cost" to the taxpayer, it said.

The improvements were "acutely" more expensive than those done at previous presidents' properties, including a 32-million-rand ($3.2 million) renovation at the house of South Africa's first black leader, Nelson Mandela, it said.

Even some of the "genuine" security aspects of the refit were judged "excessive" and could have been located in a nearby town to also benefit local residents, the report said.

Madonsela, who is tasked with probing reported abuse of power by public officials and recommending prosecution where needed, said in the report Zuma should explain himself to parliament and repay the extra non-security expenses.

But the government quickly stepped in to absolve Zuma, saying the president had done no wrong.

In a statement, government spokeswoman Phumla Williams, asserted that "no state funds had been spent on improving President Jacob Zuma's private houses".

She insisted the security upgrades "were justified", although she admitted the manner in which the ministry of works had handled the project was "inappropriate".

Exact cost of upgrade unclear

The public protector's office declined on Friday to comment on the newspaper's story. But last week Madonsela said four ministers seen as Zuma loyalists, had tried to alter her report by instructing her on what to "throw out and what to retain".

The government's decision to spend large sums of taxpayer money on Zuma's private property has generated public anger amid an economic crunch in a country where 10 million people live on social grants and many have only tin shacks as homes.

The exact total cost of the upgrade remains unclear. Two weeks ago, a parliament panel put it at 206 million rand ($20.2 million). The Mail & Guardian reported the costs at 215 million rand.

The main opposition Democratic Alliance which has been highly vocal over the cost of the home improvements said, if laws were broken, Zuma must face the "most severe sanction".

"It is becoming increasingly clear that President Zuma is at the centre of one of the biggest corruption scandals in democratic South Africa," said outspoken DA lawmaker Lindiwe Mazibuko.

Mazibuko's spokeswoman Siviwe Gwarube told AFP that if investigations show that the head of state was in the wrong "he could be liable for an impeachment".

As the leader of the ANC, Zuma, 71, is almost certainly the party's presidential candidate for polls expected early next year.

Repeated corruption scandals, increasing crime levels, poverty and infighting are hurting the ANC's popularity.

© 2013 AFP

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