S Africa's Zuma fails to quell row over upgrade to private home


GOVERNMENT ATTEMPTS this week to justify the expenditure of €18.7 million of taxpayers’ money on upgrading South African president Jacob Zuma’s private rural residence have only increased the controversy surrounding the scandal.

In a bid to deflect mounting public criticism of the costly makeover of Mr Zuma’s Nkandla home in KwaZulu-Natal province, the department of public works said the ministerial handbook’s rules authorised such spending on the president’s “private” residence.

Plans for the renovations are said to show it will contain 10 air-conditioned rooms, underground living quarters, a clinic, 10 houses for security personnel, houses for air-force and police units, a helipad, underground parking, playgrounds and visitor centres.

However, according to constitutional law expert Pierre de Vos, the handbook says only R100,000 (€8,740) worth of security-related upgrades can be made to an office bearer’s private residence; the rest should be paid by the politician in question.

In his personal blog, Constitutionally Speaking, Mr de Vos criticised the use of taxpayers’ money for the project, calling it a “blatant looting of public funds”.

“Chapter four of the ministerial handbook states that members of the cabinet ‘are responsible for all costs related to the procurement, upkeep and maintenance of private residences used for official purposes’,” he wrote.

Following the revelations about the renovations last Sunday, public works director general Mandisa Fatyela-Lindie refused to comment on the costs, claiming the homestead was a national key point and subject to blanket secrecy.

But it appears this was an attempt to sweep the issue under the carpet using apartheid-era secrecy legislation. The Mail Guardian newspaper reported yesterday the government’s efforts to declare Mr Zuma’s residence off limits had been undermined by the fact that, in May, Nkandla’s detailed cost allocations and projections were given to parliament’s national council of provinces.

The document can be easily accessed online, the newspaper said. It was also revealed that Mr Zuma does not even own the land on which his Nkandla compound is built. The department of public works is in the midst of a deal to take up the lease on the communal land owned by the Ingonyama Trust, potentially for as little as R1,000 (€87.40) a year.