CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - South Africa’s police minister said on Thursday that President Jacob Zuma will not be liable to repay money spent on security upgrades to his rural home, which opposition parties have slammed as lavish and wasteful.
Police Minister Nathi Nhleko ruled in a televised address that the upgrades, which have provoked a public outcry and included a swimming pool and animal enclosure, were legitimate security features.
“The state president is therefore not liable to pay for any of these security features,” he said.
Nhleko’s findings contrast to those of Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, who investigated upgrades which cost over $20 million in total.
Last year, Madonsela ruled Zuma had benefited unduly from the upgrades to his Nkandla home and recommended he pay back some of the money.
But Nhleko said the swimming pool, which he called a “fire pool,” was needed for fire-fighting purposes and the animal enclosure was required to prevent cattle and chickens from setting off motion detectors.
His briefing included a video presentation on the use of a swimming pool for pumping water to contain blazes.
The construction of an amphitheatre had also been questioned but Nhleko said it was needed as an emergency assembly point for family members and workers who reside at the sprawling compound.
A visitor’s centre was defended on the grounds that the president often met people of importance at his private residence and their security needed to be considered.
Julius Malema, the leader of the ultra-left Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party which has made the chant “pay back the money” in its political battle cry, said his party would not let the issue go.
“Every time we meet in parliament and elsewhere we are going to ask him when is he paying back the money,” Malema was quoted as saying by local media after Zuma was cleared.
The EFF disrupted South Africa’s normally staid parliament last year when they chanted “pay back the money” and were subsequently removed by force from the chambers.
On Wednesday, a defiant Zuma, speaking in parliament, ripped into opposition parties for their fixation on “Nkandla” and made fun of their mispronunciation of the Zulu word.
Zuma has been beset by scandal throughout his political career. He managed to avoid being tried for corruption in 2009 when the state withdrew its case on a technicality.
Writing by Ed Stoddard; Editing by James Macharia and Angus MacSwan