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Spending Scandal: Ombudsman Blasts Zuma’s Exoneration

The South African public official who led a probe into allegations that President Jacob Zuma spent millions of public money upgrading his home has blasted a report clearing the embattled leader of any wrongdoing. Zuma was last week exonerated by the police minister over the longrunning scandal and will not have to repay any of the $24 million spent on improvements at his rural homestead, which included a swimming pool, an amphitheatre and a cattle enclosure.

Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, the country’s ombudswoman, had originally ruled in March last year that Zuma and his family had “benefited unduly” from the work on his home in Nkandla in the eastern KwaZulu- Natal province She told South Africa’s City Press in an article published on Sunday that Zuma should still be made to pay and lashed out at “shortcomings” in the police minister’s report. She conceded the wording she had used in her own report was too soft. “I should have said he benefited improperly and unlawfully,” Madonsela said. “The president must pay, I have already said that.”

The amount spent on Zuma’s home would buy several luxury homes in the economic capital Johannesburg or on the scenic Cape coast. The lavish spending has angered many in a country where poverty remains widespread 21 years after the formal end of apartheid. Police Minister Nkosinathi Nhleko, who Zuma himself had tasked to determine how much the president should pay back, said Thursday that the upgrades were all necessary for security reasons, and described the the pool as a “firepool” needed to fight any blaze at the homestead. Madonsela blasted Nhleko’s report as full of “half-truths, inaccuracies and distortions”, saying he should have costed all non-security items and then agreed on what was “humanly fair and reasonable” to be paid by Zuma.

The main opposition Democratic Alliance last week described the police minister’s findings as “an insult to the South African people” and said it would consider legal action. Archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu, regarded internationally as a moral authority, also accused the government of “humiliating” South Africa by allowing Zuma to get away with the spending.

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