Zuma defends security upgrades saying his wife was raped

Timing of revelation two days before South African election questioned by critics

South African president Jacob Zuma speaks at the weekend at the African National Congress’s final rally before elections in Johannesburg. Photograph: Joao Silva/New York Times

South African president Jacob Zuma speaks at the weekend at the African National Congress’s final rally before elections in Johannesburg. Photograph: Joao Silva/New York Times

Tue, May 6, 2014, 01:00

In a bid to put the Nkandla controversy to rest before South Africa goes to the polls, ANC leader Jacob Zuma said the reason his home in KwaZulu-Natal province needed strong security measures was because it has been burned twice and broken into by criminals who had raped his wife.

Mr Zuma, who is seeking a second term as the country’s president, was speaking to journalists at a media breakfast in Johannesburg.

Following democratic elections in 1994, Mr Zuma, a Zulu, was dispatched by his party to the province to try and foster peace between ANC supporters and those who back the Inkatha Freedom Party, led by Mangosuthu Buthelezi. Both groups were fighting for control of the Zulu homeland.

Mr Zuma, commenting on how dangerous the area was, said: “There were issues that called for security, particularly in my homestead. My homestead was burned twice during violence and secondly, criminals came and raped my wife during the time I was still the MEC [between 1994 and 1999]”.

This is the first time Mr Zuma has spoken of his wife’s rape. The ANC leader is a polygamist who has been married six times. He had three wives at the time of the attack, but he did not say which of them was the victim of the rape.

The timing of the revelation – two days before the country’s fifth democratic election – has been criticised by some who question his motive for going public about such a personal and traumatising event.

Mr Zuma’s reputation has been damaged by a number of scandals over the past 10 years, but none more so than the security upgrades to his Nkandla home with €14 million of taxpayers’ money.

Opposition parties, seeking to drag support for the ANC to below 60 per cent for the first time in its electoral history, have been using the cost of the upgrades as an example of what they say is rampant corruption and mismanagement within the government.

Following an extensive investigation into the security work, South Africa’s public protector found Mr Zuma and his extended family “benefited unduly” from the upgrades, as a number of non-security features – including a reception area, swimming pool and chicken run – were included in the renovations. She recommended that he refund the taxpayer. Mr Zuma has yet to officially respond to parliament on the issue.

During yesterday’s briefing, Mr Zuma said he would address the various issues highlighted by the public protector, but added that no report – the government had carried out a separate investigation – had found he was guilty of corruption or misusing funds. “I’ve not expressed my total views on this matter . . . It has been investigated, there was no finding of misconduct . . . no government has built Zuma’s house,” he said.

There have been numerous public showings of displeasure at Mr Zuma’s leadership over the past few months. At former president Nelson Mandela’s memorial service last December, he was repeatedly booed in the 80,000-seater stadium in front of up to 50 world leaders.

On the ANC’s election campaign, Mr Zuma said his party had covered every town, city and rural area in the country to ensure it was returned to power for the fifth time since the end of apartheid. He said the party was confident that it would receive an overwhelming victory. “We went to many areas where people said ‘no matter what they say we will die with the ANC. It liberated us. We are what we are now because of the ANC’.”

Opposition parties, however, maintain the ANC is in for a big shock once the votes are tallied.