Gov't probe of SAfrica president stirs controversy

PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) — A government investigation into the use of state resources to upgrade South African President Jacob Zuma's rural private home found some irregularities but excused the construction of features like a chicken run as being motivated by security concerns.

The leader of the major opposition party in Parliament, Lindiwe Mazibuko, dubbed the report "a bungle" and accused the government of trying to "pull the wool over the public's eye." The government acknowledged it paid $21 million to upgrade the rural homestead but said it was all for security.

The investigation was one of two probes conducted into allegations that state funds were used to pay for refurbishments, including a swimming pool, a shop and dwellings for relatives at Zuma's Nkandla homestead. A separate investigation was being conducted by the Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, whose position is the equivalent of that of an ombudsman. Her report is expected to be made public by mid-January.

Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi Nxesi said Zuma had not asked for the security upgrade but that the upgrade was essential as the rural setting in Nkandla posed a security hazard. Even so, there were possible irregularities, the report said.

"For instance, large variation orders and the high percentage spent on consultancy fees point to the possibility of over-pricing and collusion," the report said. The classification by the government report of some of the taxpayer-financed construction as security upgrades raised eyebrows.

Nxesi said "the so-called swimming pool" was really a "fire pool," constructed as the most viable option for firefighting. On the issue of the small convenience store, Nxesi said the state was duty-bound to construct it after relocating it. "The tuck shop existed long before the president was inaugurated and was relocated within the ... land of the president."

He added that a feature known as the chicken run was constructed within the cattle corral and "was created as a replacement to a number of building block structures that were scattered around some of the main dwellings which were obstructions and potential hiding areas for intruders."

Mazibuko, the opposition lawmaker, said: "This is a terrible example of government spin. It's worrying to see how top officials have been deployed to justify the spending of millions of rands on the president's residence. What they should have done is apologized. They should have admitted that they've overspent and that the people of Nkandla need this money more than the president does."

She dismissed the report as "a large scale cover-up."

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