Zama Dube peers across the grassy hills of her village in Nxamalala, KwaZulu-Natal, at the newly-built houses on the sprawling private estate of South African President Jacob Zuma.
“Many people don’t have shelter or food, but he’s busy building his own house,” Dube, 21, said in a Dec. 10 interview from her hut, where holes in the corrugated-iron roof let through rain during summer thunderstorms. “Jacob Zuma has done nothing for me. I am without a job.”
Zuma, 70, is set to win a second term as leader of the African National Congress next week at a time when the ruling party is facing allegations of corruption, faction fighting and a loss of credibility among its mainly black, impoverished supporters. Claims from opposition political parties that state funds were used to refurbish his homestead in Nkandla are the latest in a string of scandals that have dogged Zuma’s political career and undermined his leadership of Africa’s largest economy.
“Nkandla is a sign and a symbol that Zuma has forgotten the poor,” Adam Habib, a political analyst at the University of Johannesburg, said in a Dec. 12 phone interview. “The levels of corruption are frightening people.”
The Johannesburg-based City Press newspaper reported on Nov. 24 the state spent 248 million rand ($28.7 million) on refurbishing Zuma’s private home, which includes a helipad and soccer fields. The government hasn’t confirmed the costs. Responding to lawmakers’ questions last month, Zuma said his family paid for the upgrades, while the state covered the costs of security measures he hadn’t ordered.
Zuma “needs to be criticized” over the spending at Nkandla, Bheki Sibiya, chief executive officer of the Johannesburg-based Chamber of Mines, told reporters on Dec. 4.
“It is excessive,” Sibiya said. “For anybody it is excessive and for them not to explain it, it is wrong.”
Zuma may have the support of about 70 percent of ANC members that will meet in the central city of Bloemfontein from Dec. 16 to 20 to elect new leaders, according to results from provincial nominations that took place in the past two weeks. His deputy, Kgalema Motlanthe, 63, is the only nominated challenger so far.
Securing the top post will pave the way for Zuma to win a second term as president in general elections scheduled for 2014. The 100-year-old ANC has won about two-thirds support in every vote since the first all-race ballot in 1994.
Zuma is faced with having to revive investor confidence in an economy battered by a wave of strikes, sliding export demand and two credit-rating downgrades. At the same time, he’s pledged to take “radical” steps to cut a 26 percent jobless rate and reduce poverty.
The rand has weakened 6.7 percent against the dollar since the start of mining strikes on Aug. 10, the biggest decline of 16 major currencies tracked by Bloomberg. It was trading at 8.6220 per dollar as of 6:12 p.m. in Johannesburg. The cost to insure against a default on South African bonds over five years increased 14 basis points to 144 in the period, indicating deteriorating risk perception among investors.
The Democratic Alliance, the main opposition party, said on Nov. 15 the government paid for 31 new buildings at Zuma’s home, six of which cost 8 million rand each, and put air-conditioning units in all of them at a cost of 1.5 million rand. It also spent 2.3 million rand on elevators for Zuma’s bunker and built a visitors’ center, gymnasium and guest rooms at his homestead, it said.
The ANC voted Zuma as party head in 2007 as an alternative to his predecessor Thabo Mbeki, who was criticized by labor unions for ignoring their concerns. Zuma’s consultative approach has won him support with union allies and party members.
“He stands for unity in the country and the party,” Nonkululeko Runeni, a delegate to next week’s conference, said in a Nov. 30 interview in Alice in Eastern Cape province. “He cares about the people. He focuses on developing the country.”
Zuma’s administration has had success in helping to combat HIV in a nation where about 11 percent of the population are infected with the virus that causes AIDS. The number of people receiving treatment at public hospitals has increased 75 percent to 1.7 million over the past two years.
That’s been overshadowed by Zuma’s flawed appointments in the judiciary and police service. The Constitutional Court in October ruled Zuma’s appointment of Menzi Simelane, South Africa’s chief prosecutor, was invalid because of his lack of experience and because he misrepresented facts in an inquiry into the conduct of a predecessor. In June, Zuma fired police chief, Bheki Cele, for his involvement in overpaying for office leases.
Those decisions were “serious salvos fired at the foundations of the democratic institutions,” Habib said.
Zuma was already tainted by corruption allegations when he became president in May 2009, claims that he’s consistently denied. Prosecutors dropped charges of racketeering, fraud, money laundering and tax evasion against him a month before he took office. Zuma’s financial adviser, Schabir Shaik, had already been convicted for receiving a bribe on his behalf.
The ANC risks losing support as voters become more disenchanted with the government, said Aubrey Matshiqi, a political analyst at the Helen Suzman Foundation in Johannesburg. In Zuma’s home village of Nkandla, the ANC lost a Dec. 5 by-election to its local rival, the Inkatha Freedom Party.
“Some protest will be registered by those ANC supporters who will be unhappy if Jacob Zuma is re-elected by the party,” Matshiqi said in a Dec. 12 phone interview. “There may also be a swing towards the opposition.”
One of those is Sipho Dyantyi, 28, who works at a building supplies store in Alice, in the Eastern Cape.
“Nkandla is for himself,” Dyantyi said in a Nov. 29 interview. “It’s like a hotel. We need that money to fix roads and to build houses. He doesn’t care about others, he’s not the president of us people, he’s the president for himself.”