from Africa in Transition

South African President Zuma’s House and Corruption

March 14, 2013

Blog Post

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Sub-Saharan Africa

Politics and Government

South Africa


Political Movements

Corruption is one of the most important public issues in South Africa and it receives exhaustive media coverage. And well it should. Transparency International ranked South Africa at sixty-ninth out of 176 countries in its 2012 "Corruption Perception Index." Botswana, ranked at thirty, was the least corrupt African country, while Cape Verde (thirty-nine), Mauritius (forty-three), Rwanda (fifty), Seychelles (fifty-one), Namibia (fifty-eight), and Ghana and Lesotho (both ranked at sixty-four) are all considered less corrupt than South Africa. As is usually the case with such rankings, the countries that outrank South Africa are small, with the notable exception of Ghana. Nevertheless, corruption is a problem, and many South Africans fear it is getting worse.

For some South Africans, President Zuma has long been the face of public racketeering and corruption. At present, they focus on the president’s private family compound in Nkandla. The compound has been rebuilt in an elaborate, traditional Zulu style. How it was paid for is unclear; to say the least. In parliament the president said he paid for it with family money and a loan. However, the non-governmental organization Global Integrity, citing Mail and Guardian reports, which were in turn based on a KPMG audit, found that “a striking number of benefactors” were involved before the president spent any of his own money. On that basis, the leader of the opposition COPE party in parliament accused the president of “knowingly misled parliament,” which amounts to perjury.

At parliament’s request, the minister of public works prepared a report on the allegation that R206 million of public money was spent on security for the compound. The opposition Democratic Alliance is calling for the report to be made public. The African National Congress (ANC) majority in parliament could block that move, but it would thereby risk considerable embarrassment.

This episode illustrates once again that an independent parliament with well-organized opposition parties, is a check both on executive behavior and the ruling ANC in South Africa, even when the latter holds a substantial majority of the seats.