JOHANNESBURG - “Pay Back the Money" has become a rallying cry in South Africa for politicians and citizens who want President Jacob Zuma to pay back some of the $20 million in public money spent on upgrades to his private homestead.
But this week, the nation's police minister cleared Zuma of any responsibility, saying the upgrades, which included a swimming pool and a cattle enclosure, were necessary for presidential security.
South Africa’s police minister declared that Zuma does not have to pay back any of the $20 million in government money that was used for improvements on his private homestead.
He said the features that have grabbed headlines, a swimming pool, a cattle corral, an amphitheater and a visitors’ center, are necessary security upgrades.
The scandal has followed Zuma for years, and the nation’s public protector wrote a 2014 report condemning the use of government funds and recommending that the president pay back a reasonable portion of the money.
That report has prompted Zuma’s political opponents to disrupt recent parliamentary sessions with insistent calls that he “pay back the money.” He has refused and said he did nothing wrong and that he did not ask for the upgrades.
Police Minister Nathi Nhleko, this week, issued his long-awaited report, in which he addressed the four most contentious items in the rural homestead.
“Evidence points to the questionable features, namely the animal enclosure, in other words, the new cattle corral and/or goat corral with culvert and chicken run; the fire pool, referred to as the swimming pool; soil retention wall, referred to as the amphitheater; and the and visitors’ center as being security features which are in accordance with the physical security requirements and/or interest,” Nhleko said. “Accordingly, the state president is therefore not liable to pay for any of these security features.”
The swimming pool, renamed a “fire pool” for its firefighting purposes, was described as the most important security asset because local fire services are slow and the area is dry and prone to catching fire.
The cattle corral, he said, keeps livestock away from the security perimeter, and the chicken run prevents wayward chickens from tripping motion detector beams. The amphitheater, Nhleko concluded, is an emergency assembly point. And the visitors’ center is an important security control point for guests and for visiting dignitaries.
He added that the widespread reporting of the affair was an affront to the president’s security, and that it might warrant more security upgrades.
“His family has concomitantly suffered the violation and breach of their security and safety. It is an unprecedented phenomenon the world over, that a president’s security and safety is violated to the degree we have seen in South Africa,” he said.
One South African journalist at the Cape Town briefing asked a question that is on the minds of many South Africans, namely: ”Do you really think we are that stupid?”
The journalist was accused of being disrespectful.
The nation’s main opposition party condemned the report and said it is investigating how to mount a legal challenge.
“The Democratic Alliance is appalled by what we’ve dubbed a ‘whitewash report’ which has absolved the president of any accountability for the millions of dollars that have been spent on one man’s private residence when there are five other presidential residences for the president to use,” Mabine Seabe, spokesman, Democratic Alliance.
Seabe said the saga is far from over, and that Zuma has not heard the last of the “pay back the money” refrain.