JOHANNESBURG — South African President Jacob Zuma has denied any wrongdoing over a $23 million State-funded security upgrade to his private home, in his first public response to allegations he had benefited unduly from the “excessive” spending.
Public protector Thuli Madonsela, South Africa’s top anti-corruption watchdog, accused Zuma this month of conduct “inconsistent with his office” and said he should pay for some of the renovations at his Nkandla home that included a chicken run and a swimming pool.
However, during campaigning near Cape Town on Sunday for a May 7 parliamentary election, the 71-year-old president brushed aside the criticism.
“They go around and say ‘This fella used public money’. I am not guilty. There is no case against me,” he said in comments widely reported in the domestic media. “I did nothing wrong. I did not do anything.”
Zuma spokesman Mac Maharaj described the reported remarks as “off-the-cuff comments”.
The Democratic Alliance, the main opposition party, has filed corruption charges against Zuma with the police, although the party’s calls for his impeachment look certain to fail, legal experts say. Zuma’s ANC is expected to sweep to victory in the election, but the scandal is exposing rifts within the former liberation movement, which has ruled South Africa since the end of apartheid in 1994.
Public criticism from within the party is extremely rare, but in the last 10 days a slew of respected ANC figures have questioned the morality of the upgrades and expressed wider concerns about creeping corruption in Africa’s biggest economy.
“Taxpayers should not pay for a swimming pool at any individual’s house, regardless of who they are,” former Finance minister Trevor Manuel said.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, one of Zuma’s harshest critics, said Madonsela’s report had revealed “stark fault lines” within the ANC and urged Zuma to “do the right thing”.