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South Africa Opposition Files Graft Charges Against Zuma Over Home Upgrade

posted 20 Mar 2014, 10:45 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 20 Mar 2014, 10:46 ]

South Africa's opposition party lays criminal charges against President Jacob Zuma, accusing him of "flagrant abuse" of public money over $23 million in home upgrades .

NKANDLA, KWAZULU-NATALSOUTH AFRICA (MARCH 20, 2014) (ENCA) -  South Africa's main opposition party laid criminal charges against PresidentJacob Zuma on Thursday (March 20), accusing him of "flagrant abuse" of public money over $23 million in upgrades to his home that included a swimming pool and a cattle enclosure.

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The Democratic Alliance (DA) filed eight charges of corruption against Zuma at a police station near his Nkandla homestead, a party spokeswoman said.

"If everyone is equal under the law, then everyone must be treated the same, I believe that President Zuma has benefited personally and his architect Makhanya benefited through this result and therefore a criminal process must take place personally to President Zuma" , said DA leader, Mmusi Maimane.

The sprawling compound in rural KwaZulu-Natal province has become a growing headache for Zuma and his ruling ANC just six weeks before an election.

South Africa's corruption watchdog on Wednesday (March 19) said Zuma benefited "unduly" from the state-funded security upgrades, accusing him of conduct "inconsistent with his office". It said he should pay for some of the unnecessary buildings, which also included an amphitheatre and a chicken run.

"This is a particularly egregious case because this is not a case of somebody splashing out on a big unnecessary government office. This is the case of an individual who is being accorded enormous privilege, an individual who is a final custodian of public resources. So it doesn't say a lot of good, it doesn't say a lot of good that the ruling party can't do what should be done under the circumstances" said David Lewis, executive director of Corruption Watch, an anti-graft watchdog set up in 2012 with the backing ofSouth Africa's largest trade union grouping COSATU, an ally of the ANC.

"We actually have sweet anti corruption laws that are by and large unenforced but we have big red lights. We have big red lights in relation to the prosecution authorities, we have big red lights in relation to the police, we have big red lights in some of theprovincial administration and certainly in local government I think our role is to make the public and the authorities and the leadership of the private sector take this seriously because, the consequences are pretty dismal, I mean one doesn't wanna land up likeRussia or India where this is so in built into the system that it is just impossible to eradicate" added David Lewis.

The findings from Public Protector Thuli Madonsela's two-year investigation are widely seen as damaging for scandal-plagued Zuma and may harm his ruling African National Congress (ANC) in the May 7 polls, although the party, which has ruled since the end of apartheid in 1994, is still expected to win.

"Therefore for rating agencies and many of the security exchange organisations such as the security exchange commission of U.S. they are very, very worried about companies being involved in bribery and corrupt activities when bidding for jobs, so therefore we may see a challenge whereby Standard and Poor's look at us and say we don't believe in this long term project, therefore South Africa is not an investment grade it should be downgraded for me that's the biggest worry, not for only but for many corporate who want to expand in the rest of the continent," said Lumkile Mondi, an economist at IDC (Indistrial Corporation development)

Under South African law, an individual or an institution can lay criminal charges through a legal filing. The DA submission was expected to go the National Prosecuting Authority, which would decide whether there was a formal case to answer.

The charges were filed a day after the DA said it planned to start impeachment proceedings against Zuma in parliament.

But given the ANC's two-third majority in parliament, the move to impeach Zuma is certain to fail. Nor is it likely to be a game-changer for the DA in the elections, as many blacks see the party as representing privileged whites.

Still, the charges reinforce the perception among many South Africans that Zuma and senior members of the ANC have grown rich as millions remain mired in poverty. While the ruling party leapt to Zuma's defence on Thursday, it admitted the scandal could be damaging with the elections looming.

"I'm very dismayed because instead of spending on his own house why doesn't he concentrate on things in the country like education and hospitalisation etc. So From the President's point of view, he should have noticed that was wrong, you do not do things like that. Think about the people first, think about the country first before you spend money on your own house, using the tax payer's money to do something like that, I am really dismayed and he will definitely not get my vote" said Johannesburg resident Elise Nightingale.

In the last three months, townships around Johannesburg and Pretoria have been rocked by daily protests, mainly by young blacks stuck in poverty and unemployment that has changed little in the two decades since white-minority rule.

"There is the poor underprivileged children; why doesn't he think about them? Why doesn't he do something about the e-tolling? But he'd rather spend money on himself. It's not fair," added another Johannesburg resident, Kathy McArthur.

Zuma, a polygamous Zulu traditionalist, has ruled South Africa since winning a 2009 election after his supporters ousted rival and predecessor Thabo Mbeki from the ANC leadership and the presidency. He has been dogged by scandals throughout his political career.