South Africa president dropped $23 million in public money on this enormous estate


The controversial homestead of South African President Jacob Zuma in Nkandla, South Africa.(Marco Longarimarco/AFP File)

For starters, there’s a swimming pool. Then there’s a visitor’s center and an amphitheater. Then on this undulating estate, which includes dozens of structures, there’s a “chicken run” and a cattle enclosure.

It’s so vast-50 acres-they relocated the neighbors to make more space.

The price tag on South Africa President Jacob Zuma’s opulent pad? $23 million. And that’s in public money.

In something of an understatement, South Africa’s top corruption watchdog said this week that Zuma had “unduly benefited” from the state-funded “security” upgrade to his estate in rural KwaZulu-Natal province. “The president tacitly accepted the measures at his residence,” the report says, “and has unduly benefited from the enormous capital investment from the non-security installations at his private residence.”

The 444-page report dropped Zuma into a familiar spot: scandal. Zuma, who assumed office in 2009, went to trial in 2006 on charges of raping an HIV-positive woman (he was found not guilty) and was slammed two years later with corruption charges that were dropped.


Detail from “Secure in Comfort” report prepared by South Africa’s top corruption watchdog. The report called on South Africa’s president to return a “reasonable percentage” of the cost.

With elections six weeks away, the damning report, called “Secure in Comfort,” is already a full-blown crisis for both Zuma and his ruling African National Congress. Observers say the report coincides with mounting perception that Zuma is irredeemably corrupt. “Our people deserve to know that when their leaders take them for granted, that they will be held to account,” opposition leader Lindiwe Mazibuko told the Wall Street Journal.

Zuma’s estate first came under fire in 2009 when news broke that his home’s first “security upgrade” cost $6.1 million. Still, Zuma apparently soldiered on, and the bill eventually topped $23 million.

“The mere magnitude of the Nkandla project,” the report says, “the many buildings constructed, including underground facilities, and substantial landscaping interventions, the swimming pool and terrace, amphitheater, kraal and culvert, Visitors Center, elaborate paving and the space created for a marquee tent would have prompted any reasonable person to seriously question the need for certain items.”

“Secure in Comfort” called for Zuma to return “a reasonable percentage” of his house’s many, many costs. Also, the report says, involved ministers should be “reprimanded” for the “appalling manner in which state funds were abused.”


African National Congress (ANC) supporters block the road to President Jacob Zuma’s private rural residence to prevent opposition leader Hellen Zille from visiting it.(AFP PHOTO / RAJESH JANTILAL)

One minister told the Wall Street Journal that Zuma “welcomed” the report, but declined to say whether Zuma would actually comply with its instructions.

“After studying it, the president is going to respond in due course,” the minister said. “Let’s wait for the president to respond to the entirety of the report.”

Terrence McCoy is a foreign affairs writer at the Washington Post. He served in the U.S. Peace Corps in Cambodia and studied international politics at Columbia University. Follow him on Twitter here.
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