Date: Wednesday, 14 February 2018
CONSTRUCTION of a pool at the president’s mansion was just one in a series of scandals which has seen South Africa descend into leadership chaos.
IT WAS the pool upgrade and opulent renovations that would come to dominate a presidency.
South African leader Jacob Zuma claimed millions of dollars of taxpayer-funded renovations to his home “Nkandla” were essential for his own security.
But the ensuing saga which followed only plunged him further into the deep end of political chaos and ultimately helped bring about his downfall.
The works to the homestead cost around $34 million, and included a swimming pool that was described as a firefighting facility. Critics argued it was anything but and pointed out other luxury upgrades such as an amphitheatre and a visitors’ centre.
Local media dubbed the estate “Zumaville”, saying it resembled a luxury resort.
In 2012, the defiant leader defended the luxury upgrades and told parliament they were paid for out of his own pocket, according to the BBC.
"Fire pool / swimming pool use for fire fighting"... pic.twitter.com/wrOsFNj1a5— Ben Sheppard (@MrBenShep) May 28, 2015
However two years later, Mr Zuma was found by the country’s anti-graft watchdog to have “benefited unduly” from so-called security upgrades to the residence in KwaZulu-Natal province.
It said he should repay some of the money, an order which Mr Zuma rallied against for more than two years.
The scandal continued to haunt him with opposition politicians chanting “Pay back the money!” every time he appeared in parliament.
Last year, he was ordered by the Constitutional Court to pay back the cash and suffered a stinging rebuke from the justices who accused him of failing to respect and uphold the constitution.
SCANDAL AFTER SCANDAL
As the Nkandla debacle built to a climax, its place in the headlines was overtaken by a new scandal, known as Guptagate.
It involved the president’s allegedly corrupt relationship with a wealthy family of Indian immigrants headed by three brothers — Ajay, Atul and Rajesh Gupta — who built a business empire in mining, media, technology and engineering.
Smouldering rumours of the family’s undue influence on the president burst into flames in 2016 when evidence emerged over allegations that they offered key government jobs to those who might help their business interests.
Ousted deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas revealed that the Guptas had offered him a promotion shortly before Mr Zuma sacked respected finance minister Nhlanhla Nene in December 2015.
The opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) laid corruption charges against the Guptas and Mr Zuma’s son Duduzane.
Even before he took office, Mr Zuma was put on trial for rape in 2006 but claimed sex with the 31-year-old family friend was consensual and was acquitted.
Mr Zuma told the court he showered to avoid contacting HIV after having unprotected sex with his HIV-positive accuser — something which he was slammed for given he was head of the South African National AIDS Council at the time.
Then last year the President found himself caught up in a corruption scandal relating to a 1990 arms deal.
In October 2017, after a marathon legal campaign by the DA party, the Supreme Court of Appeal ruled that Mr Zuma was liable for prosecution over almost 800 counts of corruption relating to a 1990s arms deal.
The accusations relate to a multibillion-dollar arms deal signed in 1999, when Mr Zuma was deputy president. He allegedly accepted bribes from international arms manufacturers to influence the choice of weaponry.
Mr Zuma’s adviser, Schabir Shaik, was jailed for 15 years in 2005. He was released on medical parole in 2009, the year Mr Zuma became president.
After he leaves office, he faces the risk of jail over 18 criminal charges surrounding the 783 counts of corruption.
Mr Zuma, who has been in power since 2009, has been under mounting pressure to step down in recent weeks.
The country’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) formally asked him to resign in a move which comes weeks after Cyril Ramaphosa replaced him as leader.
Mr Zuma, 75, agreed to step aside but wouldn’t do so for at least three months.
It’s a dramatic fall from grace for a man who spent time in jail fighting for an end to Apartheid.
If he does step down, he will be the second major African leader to stand aside in recent months.
President of neighbouring Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, was also forced to quit after 37 years in power.
The ANC is also keen for a fresh start after recording its worst-ever results in 2016 local polls.
With falling public support and an unemployment rate of around 27 per cent, many within the ANC regard Mr Zuma’s leadership as a toxic element that needs to go, the BBC reported.
In explaining its decision to order Mr Zuma to leave power, the ANC did not refer directly to the scandals surrounding his presidency.
However it said his continued presence could “erode the renewed hope and confidence among South Africans” since the choice of new party leaders in December.
The party’s national executive was split on exactly when Zuma should go which leaves the president’s immediate fate uncertain.
Ace Magashule, secretary-general of the African National Congress, said the party’s national executive committee decided to “recall” Mr Zuma.
If the President refuses the order, the matter could go to parliament for a vote on a motion of no confidence.
— With Reuters