03:05 pm
26 October 2016

South Africa’s President Escapes Censure Over House Scandal

Cape Town (AFP) – South Africa’s ruling party used its huge majority in parliament Tuesday to shield President Jacob Zuma from a scandal over the spending of millions of dollars in taxpayers’ money on his private residence.

Parliament accepted the report of an ad hoc committee which exonerated Zuma — but opposition parties warned that they would pursue in court their efforts to force him to repay the money.

The scandal has come to dominate Zuma’s presidency, who is now greeted with the chant “Pay back the money!” every time he appears in parliament.

The spending of some $24 million (about 22 million euros) on his rural residence at Nkandla in coastal KwaZulu-Natal province has also given rise to endless bitter jokes about how structures such as a swimming pool and chicken run could be classed as “security upgrades”.

The swimming pool was initially described by the ruling African National Congress (ANC)– the party of late national icon Nelson Mandela — as a “fire pool” which could also serve as a water source for firefighting.

On Tuesday an opposition lawmaker pointed out that during a recent visit by parliamentarians to Nkandla he noticed that the “fire pool” had a deep and shallow end.

“The deep end obviously is for big fires, and the shallow end for small fires,” he said.

But despite the scorn and the bitter criticism, parliament voted to take the committee’s recommendation to accept a report by the minister of police — who is a Zuma appointee — exonerating the president.

That contradicts a finding last year by the country’s ombudswoman that Zuma had “unduly benefited” from the work on his home and recommended that he repay some of the money.

Under pressure, the ANC has admitted that the cost of the work at Zuma’s home was inflated, but has blamed that on junior officials.