South Africa's Zuma to pay back millions used for home upgrades

President Jacob Zuma offered Wednesday to pay back millions of dollars in taxpayer money used to install luxurious features at his sprawling homestead in rural South Africa.

The president, who has been facing mounting pressure to step down after a series of scandals including the 250-million-rand (15.4-million-dollar) upgrade to his home in the village of Nkandla in KwaZulu-Natal province, will pay back a sum determined by the auditor general, his office said in a statement.

"To achieve an end to the drawn-out dispute ... the president proposes that the determination of the amount he is to pay should be independently and impartially determined," the statement said.

Zuma's proposal is contained in a letter sent by his attorneys to the country's highest judiciary, the Constitutional Court. 

The upgrades to Zuma's home included a football pitch and a pool, which security authorities insisted was a necessary measure for fighting fires at the estate.

Last year, a mass brawl erupted in the National Assembly after a member of an opposition party interrupted Zuma's state of the nation speech with chants for him to "pay back the money."  

Calls mounted for Zuma, 73, to step down late last year after his firing of popular finance minister, Nhlanhla Nene, sent the country's currency, the rand, into free fall.

Nationwide marches against Zuma - who has four wives and was acquitted in a high-profile trial for rape before being elected to office in 2009 - have been held countrywide with further protests planned for February 11, when he delivers his next state of the nation speech.

Nene was highly regarded by investors for his fiscal discipline and for being a voice of financial reason in a cabinet often accused of frivolous spending.

Before his dismissal, he had butted heads with Zuma over spending priorities while South Africa, which has the most industrialized economy in Africa, is under pressure from a fall in commodity prices, rising inflation, crumbling energy infrastructure, unemployment and the worst drought in more than a century.

Last update: Wed, 03/02/2016 - 13:34

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