S.Africa's Zuma delays action on home upgrade graft report

by Reuters
Thursday, 3 April 2014 09:14 GMT

In this 2012 file photo, a general view of the Nkandla home (behind the huts) of South Africa's President Jacob Zuma in Nkandla REUTERS/Rogan Ward

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* Zuma criticised for "excessive" $23 mln home upgrade

* President denies wrongdoing, awaits further report

* Ruling ANC expected to win in May 7 election

By Wendell Roelf

CAPE TOWN, April 3 (Reuters) - South African President Jacob Zuma needs more information before he can act on an anti-graft report criticising a state-funded security upgrade to his home, his office said on Thursday, fuelling speculation the findings will be ignored.

Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, South Africa's top anti-corruption watchdog, said in a report last month that Zuma should pay back some of the $23 million spent on upgrades, including a chicken run and swimming pool, to his Nkandla home.

Madonsela described the spending as excessive and accused Zuma of conduct "inconsistent with his office" but he has since denied any wrongdoing, arguing he was unaware of many of the upgrades and did not ask for them.

Zuma met a Wednesday deadline for him to respond to parliament but said that before he acted he wanted to see the findings of a separate probe by the police's elite Special Investigating Unit (SIU) that Zuma ordered in December.

"I am intent on giving full and proper consideration to all these matters," he said in a statement.

"Upon receipt of the SIU report I will provide parliament with a further final report on the decisive executive interventions which I consider would be appropriate."

Zuma has been pilloried over the Nkandla scandal - including by senior members within the ruling African National Congress (ANC) - just weeks before a May 7 national election his party is widely expected to win.

His response to Madonsela's damning conclusions prompted another backlash from critics who say corruption has worsened under Zuma and is undermining the popularity of the ANC, which has ruled South Africa since the end of apartheid in 1994.

It is also a key concern for investors in Africa's largest economy.

"In a healthy society, wrongdoers accept the consequences of their actions," Mavuso Msimang, a senior ANC member and former interior ministry director general, wrote in an editorial in the Business Day newspaper.

"We in the ANC owe it to the people of South Africa to repudiate corruption. We owe it to ourselves as a movement to put a stop to the cancer that causes power to be abused," Msimang added.

Zuma, a polygamous Zulu traditionalist with no formal education, 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.

"The president and his legal team have perfected the art of kicking for touch," said Gary van Staden, a political analyst at NKC Independent Economists. "It is quite clear that this is simply another delaying tactic ahead of the elections." (Editing by Joe Brock)

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