South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) sought on Thursday to limit the damage from a damning ombudsman’s report which ruled that multimillion-dollar state-funded upgrades to South African President Jacob Zuma’s private home were unlawful.
There was a scathing media reaction to the report, which described the US$23 million spent on renovations at Zuma’s country homestead as “excessive” and ordered him to repay some of the costs.
“License to loot,” thundered the headline in the Mail and Guardian, which first broke the story about the renovations in 2009.
The ANC, whose popularity is flagging ahead of May 7 elections, said officials implicated in the scandal should be called to account and misspent money repaid.
However, 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,” ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe said.
However, 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,” party spokesman Mmusi Maimane said. “We believe he has a case to answer.”
The 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 criticized 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 favor of the ruling party,” Tutu said in a statement, referring to the location of Zuma’s estate.
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’ center, amphitheater and helipad.
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 ANC criticized 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.