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‘The Pool Is for Fire Safety,’ and Other Excuses for Remodeling Jacob Zuma’s Mansion

South African President Jacob Zuma has faced hundreds of corruption allegations in the past. Now he's been cleared of overusing government funds to ramp up his already lavish private home.

South Africa and African National Congress President Jacob Zuma addresses supporters during a rally celebrating the ANC election victory on May 10, 2014 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
AFP PHOTO/GIANLUIGI GUERCIA        (Photo credit should read GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images)
South Africa and African National Congress President Jacob Zuma addresses supporters during a rally celebrating the ANC election victory on May 10, 2014 in Johannesburg, South Africa. AFP PHOTO/GIANLUIGI GUERCIA (Photo credit should read GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images)

South African President Jacob Zuma didn’t just use $24 million of taxpayer money to improve his private property. He used it to protect himself. Or at least that’s the conclusion of a recently released report authored by South Africa’s police minister — appointed by none other than Zuma and tapped by the president to lead the investigation into his profligacy.

Last year, South Africa’s ombudswoman suggested that the Zuma family had “unduly benefited” from extensive upgrades to their family’s homes, and encouraged the president to repay some of the government money he had used on the lavish projects. In response, Zuma appointed Police Minister Nkosinathi Nhleko to investigate the matter.

On Thursday, in a two-hour press conference, Nhleko provided explanations for why just about everything the ombudswoman had identified was actually a necessity for Zuma’s homes.

The newly updated swimming pool? It doubles as a reserve of water in case of fire. The compound is mainly thatched, after all.

The cattle run? The chickens and cows need a protected space, so they won’t set off motion detectors while they wander the grounds.

The visitors’ center? Nhleko labeled it a security enhancement.

And what about the amphitheater? It’s not an amphitheater but terraced retaining walls.

Nhleko even showed videos to reporters to back up his points. One of them featured a fire hose attached to the swimming pool. You know, just in case.

In South Africa, more than 50 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. But what better way spend $24 million than on updates to the president’s private homes?

Because of these gaping economic disparities in South African society, the scandal surrounding Zuma’s home has fed into a line of criticism against the ruling African National Congress that it hasn’t done enough in the post-apartheid era to improve the fortunes of the country’s many poor people.

The scandal has also reinforced perceptions of Zuma as a corrupt, compromised leader. Shortly before his 2009 election, South African prosecutors dropped more than 700 corruption charges against him. Zuma has further denied allegations of racketeering and money laundering stemming from a 1999 arms deal.

The Nhleko report now goes before parliament, where loyalist lawmakers are likely to accept the report unless the opposition is able to mount sufficient pressure to get the report voted down. All in all, it looks like Zuma probably won’t have to pay back a single cent.

Photo credit: GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images

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