President Jacob Zuma of South Africa promised to improve conditions for millions living in poverty, but first, he must build a befitting palace for himself. So while voters wait, he upgrades his rural family home at a cost of £17.5 million.
Zuma's grand building project, in a country where two million citizens lack access to toilet facilities, includes construction of 31 new houses, an underground bunker served by lifts and a helipad.
According to the Daily Mail, Zuma's once modest family home in the village of Nkandla, KwaZulu Natal, will also be equipped with Astroturf sports fields, tennis courts, a gymnasium and security systems that include fingerprint-controlled access pads.
The Telegraph reports the house includes a children's play ground, a medical clinic, 10 houses for security staff, houses for air force and police units, underground parking, playgrounds and a visitors' center.
Earlier reports said each wife would receive a house designed like an African hut with thatches and 32mm armored glass for windows. All the bedrooms would be linked to a central house that allows the Zulu chief access to his wives' rooms through underground tunnels.
The Daily Mail notes that the cost of the grandiose project, £17.5 million, is almost as much as the £19 million the United Kingdom gives to South Africa every year as aid.
Brtiish tax payers may be excused in believing that this is Zuma's way of telling the UK that his country does not need British aid.
When City Press, a South African newspaper, first revealed the cost of Zuma's pet project, his ministers accused them of revealing state secret. According to The Telegraph, the "top secret document" from the Department of Public Works, showed that the head of state would fund only five percent of the total costs.
An official reportedly told City Press newspaper that the house was a "national key point" and thus all information about it was "top secret." The Daily Mail explains that "national key point" was "a status invented by the previous paranoid apartheid government" and it means that Zuma's private home qualifies for special security measures all in the interest of the nation.
The project began two years ago with a cost originally put at a relatively modest £500,000. According to The Telegraph, Zuma had claimed he would foot most of the bill himself. But since the initial modest costing, his taste ballooned and now South African taxpayers must bear the burden of an extravagant bill to provide comfortable living quarters for Dear Leader, his four wives and 20 children.
The Telegraph reminds us that taxpayers are already burdened with the imposed responsibility of maintaining the president's state residences in Pretoria and Cape Town.
However, the Daily Mail reports that the great Zulu chief says he is contributing £700,000 of his own money, from his £185,000 salary as president of South Africa and £1.2 million he receives in "spousal support."
The Guardian reports that the grand housing project which the South African media have dubbed "Nkandlagate" continues while residents of rural Nkandla live in poverty, with an unemployment rate of 47.4%.
Lindiwe Mazibuko, parliamentary leader of the Democratic Alliance (DA), commented: "The DA has learnt that thousands of people living on the outskirts of Nkandla, in villages like Babanango, Kataza and Ebizimali, are still without the most basic services..."
Meanwhile, Zuma has called on fellow South African politicians to follow his example and "tighten their belts." Lindiwe Mazibuko said that with the poverty in his native Nkandla, the president should be ashamed of himself. She asked: "How can a leader ask the country to make sacrifices, and tighten belts in hard times, when he leads such publicly-funded extravagance? President Zuma's behavior upends the very concept of social justice which is written into our constitution."
When he was confronted in the parliament with details of the scale of the work, he feigned ignorance, saying he was not aware that his home was undergoing such drastic transformation. He protested the affront from the MPs, saying: "All the buildings and every room we use in that residence were built by ourselves as family and not by the government." When asked to confirm the amount spent on bunkers, he said: "I don’t know the figures; that’s not my job."
This is not the first time Zuma has faced a financial scandal. According to the Daily Mail, in 2004, he and his financial adviser Schabir Shaik, were accused of collecting bribes from European arms dealers.
Shaik was imprisoned for 15 years but Zuma managed to escape.
His personal life has also witnessed scandals. A 31-year-old HIV-positive woman accused him of rape but he was acquitted. He told a bemused world that he took a shower after having sex with the woman to avoid contracting HIV.
The Daily Mail reports that while Zuma completes his grand project, the credit rating of his country has been downgraded, after an industrial action in which police killed Marikan platinum mine workers demanding better pay.