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Jacob Zuma: Spending $24 Million on My Home Was Necessary for Security, But I’ll Pay It Back Anyway

Jacob Zuma has agreed to pay back the South Africa government for some of his home renovations.

DURBAN, SOUTH AFRICA - JULY 05:  President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, during at the 2014 Vodacom Durban July races at Greyville Racecourse on July 5, 2014 in Durban, South Africa.  (Photo by Neville Hopwood/Getty Images)
DURBAN, SOUTH AFRICA - JULY 05: President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, during at the 2014 Vodacom Durban July races at Greyville Racecourse on July 5, 2014 in Durban, South Africa. (Photo by Neville Hopwood/Getty Images)

It was hard to ignore that South African President Jacob Zuma’s once-humble personal home just kept growing. And growing. And growing some more.

What started in 2009 as small upgrades to his compound soon expanded to include the construction of a swimming pool, an amphitheater, a cattle run, and a visitors’ center. Just like that, Zuma had run up a $24 million bill — on the taxpayers’ dime.

But then a damning 2014 report released by South Africa’s national ombudsman accused him of “unduly benefiting” from state funds when he renovated the lavish home for personal enjoyment.

On Wednesday, after years of controversy surrounding his expensive updates, Zuma finally agreed to pay back at least some of the $24 million bill. (The actual payment could be lower now due to changes in exchange rates.)

The president’s extravagant expenditures — and his refusal to admit they shouldn’t have been paid for by the state — infuriated members of the South African Parliament, who on more than one occasion protested Zuma with the chant “pay back the money!”

That phrase trended as a hashtag on social media Wednesday after he announced his intention to repay the bills.   

The wrangling over whether or not he needed to repay the costs came to a head with the 2014 report, and Zuma promised Police Minister Nkosinathi Nhleko would investigate the matter.

Last May, Nhleko presented his findings, which amounted to nothing more than a list of elaborate excuses for how each addition to the home qualified as a security upgrade. During Nhleko’s two-hour press conference to publicize his findings, the swimming pool turned into a fire pool. The cattle run became a way to ensure chickens and cows would not set off motion detectors at the residence.

South Africans didn’t buy it. The opposition Democratic Alliance insisted it would move forward with charges against Zuma, who leads the African National Congress party.  Fearing legal action, Zuma caved and agreed to pay back the money. On Wednesday, the presidency released a statement that said Zuma “remains critical of a number of factual aspects and legal conclusions in the [ombudsman’s] report.”

But he conceded he would “implement what the public protector recommended as remedial action contained in the report.”

The scandal is one of the worst in South Africa’s history, but for Zuma, it’s practically the norm to be under scrutiny for misappropriating his finances. Years ago, he faced more than 700 charges of fraud and corruption — all of which were dropped in 2009, shortly before Zuma was elected president.

Photo Credit: Neville Hopwood/Getty Images

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