, JOHANNESBURG, March 20- South Africa’s ruling ANC sought Thursday to limit the damage from a damning ombudsman’s report which ruled that multi-million dollar state-funded upgrades to President Jacob Zuma’s private home were unlawful.
Media reaction to the report which described the $23 million spent on renovations at Zuma’s country homestead as excessive and ordered him to repay some of the costs was scathing.
“Licence to loot,” thundered the headline in The Mail and Guardian, which first broke the story about the renovations in 2009.
The African National Congress, whose popularity is flagging ahead of May 7 elections, said officials implicated in the scandal should be called to account and misspent money repaid.
But it tried to divert attention from its tainted leader, who his running for office again.
“All public office bearers, officials and private sector companies involved in any maladministration must be brought to book, and all funds that were acquired inappropriately must be recovered,” said ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe.
“When we say all, we mean all,” Mantashe told a news conference in Johannesburg, when asked if this included Zuma.
But he denounced calls for Zuma’s impeachment as a “premeditated position that has nothing to do with the report”.
South African laws are vague about the consequences of the head of state breaking the ethics code.
But the main opposition Democratic Alliance has said it would start impeachment proceedings against Zuma and announced plans to lay charges against him on Thursday.
– ‘Heads must roll’ –
The splurge on the house nestled in Nkandla village in the verdant hills of Zuma’s political stronghold in the eastern KwaZulu-Natal province has caused anger in a country where there is widespread poverty and where 10 million people live on welfare.
“The putrid stench must stop. Prosaic proclamations of intentions to investigate are insufficient,” said The Star. “Heads must roll. Now.”
Ombudsman Thuli Madonsela on Wednesday ordered Zuma to repay a “reasonable percentage” of the costs of non-security upgrades at the residence but did not set a specific amount.
The lavish refurbishments at so called “Zumaville” included a swimming pool, private clinic, visitors’ centre, amphitheatre and helipad.
“The expenditure incurred by the state went beyond what was reasonably required for the president’s security, was unconsciously excessive and caused a misappropriation of funds,” Madonsela’s report said.
The ANC criticised the timing of the report just weeks beforee the elections but Madonsela blamed the government for the delays.
Zuma is the ANC’s presidential candidate for the May 7 polls, where the party is expected to win the parliamentary vote with a reduced majority.
The Business Day said the ombudsman’s report served to remind South Africa that “we have a president who, at best, has very poor judgement”.
It suggested that there would not be any action by the ANC, saying “scapegoats are going to be found” but not people at the top.
The report “exposes the rot at the heart of Nkandla”, said the Mail and Guardian
“You owe us,” declared The Times, juxtaposing the report’s findings with Zuma’s pronouncements on poverty in South Africa, which he once said it kept him awake.
Senior ANC leaders plan to inspect the homestead next week, Mantashe told reporters.