S Africa: Jacob Zuma pays $500,000 over Nkandla row

President repays $542,000 of public money spent on upgrades on his private residence, including a swimming pool.

Zuma home
The scandal over the Nkandla home upgrades has dogged Zuma's presidency [Rogan Ward/Reuters]

South African President Jacob Zuma has paid back more than $500,000 of public money spent on non-security improvements to his private home, according to his office, after a scandal over lavish upgrades including a swimming pool and a chicken coop.

The money is just about 3 percent of the total amount of state funds that were spent on the president’s rural home at Nkandla in the KwaZulu-Natal province.

In late March, the Constitutional Court had said that Zuma should repay some of the $16m spent on enhancing his residence.

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Three months later, the national treasury valued that sum at 7.8 million South African rand ($542,000), describing it as a “reasonable percentage” of costs for improvements to Zuma’s home that were unrelated to security.

“President Zuma has paid over the amount … to the South African Reserve Bank as ordered by the Constitutional Court of South Africa,” the presidency said in a statement on Monday.

It added that the president had raised the money through a home loan from private VBS Mutual Bank. The treasury confirmed separately that the payment had been received.

‘Circle of cronies’

In a statement, the Democratic Alliance, South Africa’s main opposition party, welcomed the news of the funds’ repayment, but said that Zuma should provide proof in parliament that he personally paid back the state, saying he “has a history of tapping into his circle of cronies for funds”.

Bongani Ngqulunga, the presidency’s spokesman, said Zuma had not considered taking money from his supporters to pay the amount as he had been ordered by the court to pay it personally.

“There was no special dispensation for the president. He received the loan on standard terms, the same terms as anybody else,” Ngqulunga said.

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Zuma is scheduled to answer questions in parliament on Tuesday, an occasion likely to feature harsh criticism from opposition parties. 

The Nkandla scandal has dogged Zuma’s presidency, becoming a symbol of alleged corruption and greed within the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party and triggering several unsuccessful impeachment bids by the opposition.

The ANC suffered historic losses in South Africa’s local elections last month, garnering less than 54 percent of ballots cast – an eight-point drop from the last local poll in 2011 and its worst showing since the fall of white-minority rule in 1994.

Source: News Agencies