President Jacob Zuma of South Africa has expressed willingness to reimburse the state for spending on his private home, the president's office said Wednesday, reflecting an effort to end a scandal that prompted a national outcry and led to heckling and even scuffles at some parliamentary sessions.
Zuma wants South Africa's auditor-general and finance minister to determine how much he should pay for the more than $20 million in state-financed upgrades at his private compound, known as Nkandla, Zuma's office said in a statement.
The announcement follows pressure from opposition parties, which have sought to take the case to the Constitutional Court. They have said the president failed to comply with a 2014 report by South Africa's government watchdog that concluded Zuma inappropriately benefited from state funding.
Zuma wants to "achieve an end to the drawn-out dispute'' in a manner that is "beyond political reproach,'' his office said.
South Africa's main opposition party criticized Zuma's proposal, saying it will still argue at the Constitutional Court in a Feb. 9 hearing that Zuma had flouted recommendations made by the state watchdog, South African media reported. Mmusi Maimane, leader of the opposition Democratic Alliance, speculated that Zuma finally offered to refund the state because he doesn't want opposition lawmakers to disrupt his state-of-the-nation address in parliament on Feb. 11, according to reports.
Zuma has denied wrongdoing in the Nkandla scandal, saying government security officials controlled the spending project. Some construction at Nkandla had nothing to do with security, including an amphitheater, a visitors' center, a chicken run and an area for cattle, according to the report by the watchdog agency.
Opposition lawmakers have sometimes disrupted parliamentary debates because of the scandal, shouting: "Pay back the money!''