South African President Jacob Zuma personally benefited 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 (US$20 million) to revamp Zuma’s rural home, including adding a swimming pool, an outdoor amphitheater, 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 African 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.
However, the as-yet unpublished report, titled Opulence on a Grand Scale and drafted by South African Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, found that Zuma derived “substantial” benefit from the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 renovation at the house of South Africa’s first black leader, former South African president 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.
However, the government quickly stepped in to absolve Zuma, saying the president had done no wrong.
In a statement, government spokeswoman Phumla Williams said 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.”
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.”