South African President Zuma Faces Fallout From Home Makeover

South Africa President Jacob Zuma is facing a public outcry over spending of taxpayers’ money on his private home, while one of his ruling party’s biggest allies is threatening to desert just months before general elections.

More than 13,000 people have signed a petition calling for Zuma’s impeachment since the Mail & Guardian newspaper cited a preliminary report by the nation’s graft ombudsman as saying he personally benefited from more than 200 million rand ($20 million) worth of renovations to his private home. The upgrade included a pool, amphitheater and houses for relatives.

At the same time, the 324,000-member National Union of Metalworkers will meet next week to decide whether to withdraw support for the African National Congress because of differences over government policies. South Africa is scheduled to hold an election by July.

“There are damaging processes happening on two serious fronts,” Susan Booysen, a politics professor at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, said today by phone. “Numsa is huge and if it goes, the ANC loses a big chunk of its clout. The party may survive next year’s election, but I can’t see how it cannot shed massive support if Zuma continues to be immersed in these kind of scandals.”

Zuma, 71, who won control of the ANC from Thabo Mbeki in 2007, is no stranger to controversy. He became president in 2009 just weeks after prosecutors dropped charges against him of taking bribes from arms dealers. He fathered a child with a friend’s daughter, while an Indian family who he counts as his friends secured access to a high security air force base on April 30 to transport guests to a wedding.

ANC Domination

While any attempt to oust Zuma probably won’t succeed because the ANC dominates Parliament and most party positions are occupied by his allies, the party may lose support in the elections, Booysen said.

The ANC, which led the fight against apartheid, has won more than 60 percent support in every vote since the first multiracial ballot in 1994. While the party has endured several splits within its ranks, it won 65 percent backing in the last national vote in 2009.

The preliminary report by Public Protector Thuli Madonsela said Zuma should repay part of the money spent on his house, according to the Nov. 29 Mail & Guardian report.

The government said the 208 million rand spent on the property in Nkandla in the eastern KwaZulu-Natal province went toward needed security upgrades, and Zuma denied any role in authorizing them. The ANC said in a Nov. 29 statement that it knows “he is not responsible for any wrongdoing.’

Parliamentary Investigation

The main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, says if Madonsela’s reported findings prove accurate, it would warrant ‘‘the most severe sanction of Zuma’s conduct,” and Parliament should conduct a full investigation.

“As more and more details surrounding Nkandlagate emerge, it is becoming increasingly clear that President Zuma is at the center of one of the biggest corruption scandals in democratic South Africa,” Lindiwe Mazibuko, the DA’s parliamentary leader, said in a statement. “He must be accordingly held accountable by Parliament for his actions.”

Support for the ruling party would be further eroded should the metalworkers’ union opt to quit the Congress of South African Trade Unions, a labor federation that forms part of the governing alliance, and withdraws support for the ANC.

The union, which meets for three days from Dec. 13, accuses the ANC of pandering to business interests and is unhappy about a decision by Cosatu to suspend General-Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi after he acknowledged having an extra-marital affair with a subordinate.

“There is ongoing damage to the ANC,” Booysen said. “The damage is not being inflicted by an opposition party. The party is doing the damage to itself.”

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