JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AFP) — South Africa's leader Jacob Zuma yesterday defended multi-million-dollar renovations at his personal residence saying he paid for the bulk of the work, while the government paid for security upgrades.
"We are a very big family... (so) we decided to extend our homestead. At the same time government was wanting to put its own measures, security measures," Zuma said.
He did not give a breakdown of how much he had paid for the upgrades at the thatched-roof compound in Nkandla in the eastern KwaZulu-Natal province, which are reported to include a helipad, underground bunkers, fencing, and a clinic.
Local media say the works will cost taxpayers up to 238 million rand (US$27 million).
The splurge in the verdant hills of Zuma's political stronghold has sparked an uproar amid an economic crunch in a country where 10 million people live on social grants and many have only tin shacks for home.
"When people see my house on the TV, they must be thinking that government has built this for me. No. A large part of that... has been done by the family," Zuma said.
The City Press newspaper claimed Zuma had paid for only five per cent of the total cost.
Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi has said the works were part of long-planned security upgrades for the president's residence as was done for former presidents including Nelson Mandela's private home in Qunu.
But the latest upgrades coincided with the polygamous Zuma's private plans to enlarge his house.
Nxesi said Zuma's hometown was also generally an arid area, making it susceptible to fires, which were some of the risks that had to be addressed for the safety of the president and his family.
Zuma's office said in a statement the upgrading of his residence started long before 2009 when he came to power.
"It is really disappointing that every development in Nkandla is attributed to the President and then problematised," Zuma said in the statement.
The opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) is fuming that government has refused to publicly detail expenditure on the residence.
"The public have a right to know whether their tax money is being used inappropriately," said DA lawmaker Anchen Dreyer.
"By refusing to publicise information about Nkandla, the (government) is clearly demonstrating its contempt for this fundamental right," she added.
Fresh media reports this week suggested separately, 583 million rand had been spent on building a network of roads in Zuma's hometown.
But his office rejected the suggestion the road works were linked to him.
"It is mischievous and inaccurate to insinuate that the road was constructed because of favouritism as the President lives there," it said.
The country's ombudsman is investigating reports the renovations are paid for by public funds.