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Wednesday March 19, 2014 MYT 8:21:37 AM
Wednesday March 19, 2014 MYT 8:23:02 AM
by ed cropley
PRETORIA (Reuters) - A South African anti-corruption watchdog unveils a report on Wednesday on a $21 million state-funded "security upgrade" to President Jacob Zuma's private home that a newspaper says included a swimming pool and cattle enclosure.
If Public Protector Thuli Madonsela's long-awaited findings concur with leaked excerpts in the Mail and Guardian daily, they could damage the scandal-plagued Zuma and the ruling African National Congress (ANC) in an election only six weeks away.
Madonsela, a fearless advocate who has become one of the biggest thorns in the ANC's side, condemned the November leak of her provisional report into Zuma's homestead at Nkandla in rural KwaZulu-Natal province and denied it came from her office.
Zuma's spokesman declined to comment, but the ANC immediately threw its weight behind its leader, saying it believed he had done nothing wrong.
As the report's formal release day has approached, several senior party officials have appeared in the media questioning the integrity and independence of Madonsela, whose office is enshrined in South Africa's post-apartheid constitution.
The newspaper said Madonsela's draft report, entitled "Opulence on a Grand Scale", found Zuma had derived "substantial" personal gain from the home improvements paid for by the state and recommended he should repay some of the money.
The improvements included a visitors' lounge, amphitheatre, cattle enclosure and swimming pool, referred to in official documents as a "fire pool" on the pretext it could double up as a water reservoir for fire-fighters, the paper said.
The leaked report provoked derisive cartoons of Zuma sipping cocktails and relaxing in his "fire pool", and reinforced the perception of runaway corruption in Africa's biggest economy during Zuma's first term in office.
Despite voter concerns about graft and shoddy public services, the ANC is almost certain to win the May 7 election, handing the 71-year-old Zuma another five years at the helm.
Before the leak, the government had gone to court to try to prevent Madonsela releasing her findings on the grounds that they might jeopardise Zuma's security. The challenge was dropped after Madonsela made clear there was no threat.
The paper also said Madonsela accused Zuma of misleading parliament by telling it in 2011 that all the buildings in the sprawling compound had been built "by ourselves as family, and not by the government".
Zuma, a polygamous Zulu traditionalist, has been beset by scandal throughout his political career.
He only became president after corruption charges against him were dropped on a technicality days before the polls, and while in office fathered a love-child with the daughter of a close friend.
The extent of his unpopularity in urban areas was highlighted by the boos that greeted him at a memorial to Nelson Mandela at Johannesburg's Soccer City stadium in December, although he still enjoys huge support in the countryside.
($1 = 10.2228 South African rand)
(Editing by Alistair Lyon)
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