South African President Jacob Zuma (left) didn't just use 200 million rand ($21 million) of taxpayers’ money to upgrade his Nklandla home in KwaZulu-Natal province – he used it to protect himself.
Or at least that's the conclusion of a report authored by South Africa's police minister Nkosinathi Nhleko who was appointed by Zuma himself to investigate the latter’s profligacy.
Zuma had no choice because last year, South Africa's ombudswoman suggested that the Zuma family had "unduly benefited" from extensive enhancements to their private family home, and encouraged the president to repay a reasonable amount of the money to the exchequer.
On May 28, 2015, Nhleko gave a two-hour press conference to announce that the home improvements were "in accordance with the physical security requirements" and explained in detail why just about everything the ombudswoman had identified were in fact legitimate security features.
The swimming pool was the best source of water in case of fire – Nhleko showed a video that spotlighted a fire hose attached to the swimming pool and four policemen demonstrating how this security feature worked; the kraal (animal enclosure) was a cultural necessity and also a protected space, so the animals won't set off motion detectors while they wander the grounds; the visitors’ center provided privacy for meetings; and the amphitheater served as the family’s emergency assembly area.
That was not all. Nhleko added that there were upgrades recommended for the president’s residence by security practitioners which had not yet been installed, as work on them had ceased due to ongoing investigations. And when asked how much the extra security features would cost the taxpayers, the public works minister Thulas Nxesi said he didn’t know.
In South Africa, more than 50 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. You can imagine the scandal surrounding Zuma's home has fed into a long line of caustic criticism against the ruling African National Congress that they haven't done enough in the post-apartheid era to improve the fortunes of the country's many poor people.
The scandal has further reinforced perceptions of Zuma as a corrupt leader. Shortly before his 2009 election, South African prosecutors dropped more than 700 corruption charges against him. And not including allegations of racketeering and money laundering stemming from a 1999 arms deal.
And it looks like Zuma probably won't have to pay back a single cent.