A scandal surrounding more than $20 million in state spending on the South African president's private home has ignited a debate about moral leadership and alleged corruption ahead of May elections, even prompting satirical songs based on smash hits such as "Gangnam Style."
The uproar comes at a pivotal time for President Jacob Zuma and his ruling African National Congress party, the former anti-apartheid movement that has dominated South African politics since the end of White racist rule two decades ago. Opposition parties hope to make inroads against the electoral front runner by driving a wedge between ANC supporters and the president, whose tenure has been hit by allegations of state graft.
President Jacob Zuma said government security officials controlled the project at his home and that efforts by the political opposition to bring criminal charges against him for alleged misuse of state money will fail, South Africa media reported March 31.
"There is no case," The New Age newspaper quoted Zuma as saying at a campaign stop near opposition-held Cape Town. "They can look for me even under the trees. They are never going to find me because I never did anything wrong."
On March 19, South Africa's state watchdog agency released a report concluding that Zuma inappropriately benefited from state funding and should pay back some money for the alleged security upgrades at the president's rural Nkandla residence. Some construction had nothing to do with security, including an amphitheater, a visitors' center, a chicken run and an area for cattle, according to the report.
Many South Africans are incensed by the building of a swimming pool at Nkandla that was described by project officials as a "fire pool," or a reservoir to be used to douse any blaze. They are delighted, in turn, by a YouTube parody of the catchy "Gangnam Style" song by South Korea's Psy.
"Nkandla Style" doesn't feature any trademark dance, just a revolving view of a pile of coins and cartoons of a pulsating transistor radio.
The lyrics include, "If you're number one, you get to drive the gravy train," and "Yes I'm swimming in your money but I don't know, I don't know, skinny dipping with all my honeys, cool in the pool, my fire pool."
Another spoof came from South African DJ Gareth Cliff, who riffs off American rapper Jay Z's "Empire State of Mind" with a chorus that goes, "Secret jungle where dreams are made of/There's nothing you can't do/Now you're in Nkandla."
The scandal follows the suspension last year of some security officials after a chartered plane carrying 200 guests from India to a lavish family wedding was allowed to land at a South African air force base. Critics said it was an example of inappropriate links between big business and top government ranks.
The executive committee of the ruling party, which includes Zuma, said March 31 that it was committed to accountability and it had noted the watchdog report on the president's home. There are "processes that need to be given a chance," including a report from Zuma as well as a separate state probe, it said.
Some prominent figures in the African National Congress, however, have lamented the Nkandla spending in a country with a deep divide between rich and poor. Last week, Business Day newspaper published a column by Pallo Jordan, a former Cabinet minister who criticized ministers in charge of the project and said Zuma bore "moral responsibility."
Jordan wrote: "Even though it has many commendable achievements in healthcare, education and social security, the record of his administration is littered with scandal."