For many South Africans, the expenditure of roughly 246 million Rand (about $24.6 million) on President Jacob Zuma’s private residential compound, Nkandla, has become symbolic of the corruption at the upper reaches of the African National Congress (ANC). Parliamentary members of the ANC’s opposition have increasingly complained about the misuse of public money to fund Zuma’s ostentatious home.
The public protector, a position established by South Africa’s constitution, can investigate any complaint at any level of government. The incumbent, Thuli Madonsela, is well-known for her independence. Indeed, she determined that significant amounts of public money were misused on Zuma’s Nklanda compound in KwaZulu-Natal, and recommended that he make a refund to the treasury.
In parliament on March 12, Zuma denied any personal wrongdoing with respect to Nkandla and brushed off any obligation to make a repayment at present. He said that it was up to the Police Minister, Nathi Nhleko, to make a determination as to whether he is liable for any portion of the expenditure, and that there would be a report by the end of the month. Nhleko is a former chief whip of the ANC and chairperson of the ANC caucus. Sparing Zuma of any repercussion for his actions would come as no surprise. Many ANC parliamentarians dismiss complaints about Nkandla as playing politics by the Democratic Alliance and the Economic Freedom Fighters. These parties represent the ANC’s main opposition. With a large ANC majority, it is unlikely that parliament will move against Zuma.
Stephen Grootes, in Daily Maverick, notes that Zuma views the public protector’s findings as recommendations rather than a legal ruling. A legal case is underway to determine whether the public protector’s findings are legally binding. Grootes points out that the public protector is not a judge and does not have the authority of one.
Nevertheless, the Nkandla episode has damaged the reputation of Zuma and it has energized the opposition parties. It remains to be seen whether there will be significant political consequences for the ANC.