Cape Town — President Jacob Zuma has responded to the controversy over the spending of U.S. $23 million in government money on his private country estate by declaring: "I never did anything wrong."
Breaking his silence 11 days after South Africa's public protector, Thuli Madonsela, found that the spending was "unconscionable, excessive and caused a misappropriation of public funds", Zuma told elderly voters in Cape Town that he did not use taxpayers' money to upgrade his estate.
His remarks were reported by a crew from ANN7, a television news channel owned by Zuma supporters.
Madonsela said Zuma and his family had unduly benefited from the upgrades and ordered him to repay part of the costs.
But ANN7 said he told voters while campaigning in the Cape Town suburb of Gugulethu: “They put in windows that I don’t even want. Then they turn around and say this fellow used the government’s money...
““What I am saying is that this case does not even exist... There is no case. They can look for me even under the trees. They are never going to find me because I never did anything wrong...
“They searched and investigated and finished but they did not find anything,” he reportedly added.
However, criticism from within Zuma's ruling African National Congress of his administration and the behaviour of his Cabinet is growing.
Former Mandela and Mbeki-era Cabinet minister Pallo Jordan wrote in a newspaper column last week that "even though it has many commendable achievements in healthcare, education and social security, the record of his administration is littered with scandal".
Jordan added: "I find it shocking that not one minister raised the matter with Zuma or drew his attention to the potential damage to his and the government’s reputation. The ANC leadership accepted collective responsibility for the human rights abuses committed by its members during the armed struggle. ANC ministers should now demonstrate the same moral courage."
Also last week, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe urged the government to implement Madonsela's recommendations.