South Africa’s police ministry said President Jacob Zuma is not liable for the misuse of state funds to upgrade his private home, contradicting the graft ombudsman’s recommendation that he should repay some of the money.
A police ministry report submitted to lawmakers on Thursday absolved Zuma of responsibility and blamed inflated contracts and government officials for the high costs of renovations. All upgrades to Zuma’s home were security upgrades, including a swimming pool, cattle enclosure and chicken run, it said.
“Never in South Africa’s history or anywhere else in the world has a president’s private residence been subjected to such intense public scrutiny,” according to the report. “Therefore, the president and his family’s rights have been violated. The state president is not liable to pay anything.”
Zuma (72) has faced a public backlash since public protector Thuli Madonsela said in a report in March last year that he unfairly benefited from the use of state funds to renovate his home in Nkandla in KwaZulu-Natal. Zuma appointed Police Minister Nathi Nhleko to probe whether he should repay any of the R215-million that was spent.
Zuma has repeatedly denied ordering the security makeover. A panel of ANC lawmakers cleared him of wrongdoing.
“There is no case against me on Nkandla, no pending arrest,” Zuma told lawmakers on March 11. “I don’t know why the issue of ‘pay back the money'” is being raised, he said.
The Democratic Alliance estimates Zuma owes taxpayers at least R52.9-million, while the EFF, the second-largest opposition group, says he should repay R206-million.
A former intelligence operative, Zuma has also been alleged to have taken bribes from arms dealers. He denied any wrongdoing, and prosecutors dropped charges against him a few weeks before he became president in 2009. He secured a second five-year term in May last year after the ANC won its fifth straight election.
Pool is critical
The swimming pool at Nkandla was needed to ensure the security of the president as it served a critical fire-fighting purpose, Nhleko said on Thursday.
Reading from the report, Nhleko said an exercise conducted by the Nkandla fire and rescue service in February this year showed they were not equipped properly to fight fires at the homestead which consists of various thatch roof buildings.
The exercise showed using water from the swimming pool instead of fire hydrants was more effective to fighting fires.
“During the demonstration, the chief fire officer for Umhlathuze established that the suction pump could draw sufficient water from the pool at the required speed, whereas the fire hydrant’s lack of necessary water pressure was evident.”
Nhleko showed journalists a video of the exercise – complete with dramatic music playing in the background, and a firefighter standing next to Nkandla pool – explaining why the pool was a better source of water than fire hydrants. – Bloomberg News and African News Agency