PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) — South African President Jacob Zuma said Monday that he anticipates an election victory this week for the ruling African National Congress, and that his government, if re-elected, will speed the provision of basic services following protests in many poor communities that complain they are sidelined.
Nearly 2,000 military personnel will assist police in ensuring security during the elections Wednesday. Officials are helping some South Africans, including the sick and the elderly, to vote early. Zuma also said he had been unfairly labeled as corrupt because of a scandal surrounding more than $20 million in state spending on his private home. South Africa's state watchdog agency had released a report concluding that Zuma inappropriately benefited from state funding and should pay back some money for alleged security upgrades at the president's rural Nkandla residence.
The report, Zuma insisted to journalists in Johannesburg, did not conclude that he had abused government funds, despite growing public dissatisfaction over a series of scandals linked to the president. That feeling was most evident when Zuma was booed by some in the crowd at a stadium memorial in December for Nelson Mandela, South Africa's first black president.
"I don't think it is fair treatment to a citizen," the South African Press Associated quoted Zuma as saying of reports that have criticized his conduct. The spending on Zuma's rural home was allegedly for security upgrades, and the president said security had been a problem there in the past, citing two separate incidents in which the home was burned and his wife was raped during a break-in. Zuma, who has four wives and 21 children, said those involved in the second incident were arrested and convicted, but he did not provide further details.
The Democratic Alliance, the main opposition party, said in a statement that Zuma and his family were entitled to security, but that the spending at Nkandla was "an exorbitant expenditure on non-security benefits to the President, with his knowledge and his failure to act to prevent it."
While unease with Zuma has grown, it is not expected to shake core support for the ANC, which led the movement against white minority rule and has dominated politics since Mandela became president in South Africa's first all-race vote in 1994. The party has touted its record of promoting democratic freedoms and providing housing, water and electricity to millions of people, but the country struggles with high unemployment and a gulf between the poor and the wealthy.
Protests in poor communities periodically erupt. On Monday, at least 5,000 people demonstrated for better government services in the Nsuze area in KwaZulu-Natal province, blocking a road with burning tires and stones, police said. There were no reports of injuries, the South African Press Association reported. In a separate protest, 40 people were arrested in street unrest Monday in the East Rand area near Johannesburg, according to Eyewitness News, a South African media outlet.