South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma will pay back some of the public funds used to upgrade his private home, his office said Wednesday, attempting to end a two-year scandal that has plagued his government.
Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, the country’s ombudswoman, ruled in 2014 that Zuma and his family had “benefited unduly” from the work on Zuma’s rural residence of Nkandla.
Among the supposed security upgrades were a swimming pool described as a fire-fighting facility, a chicken run, a cattle enclosure, an amphitheatre and a visitors’ centre.
“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,” said a presidential statement.
The exact sum will be determined by the treasury and police ministry, it added.
Zuma had previously denied any wrongdoing over the upgrades, with opposition lawmakers often disrupting his parliamentary speeches by chanting “Pay back the money!”
His change of position came ahead of a Constitutional Court hearing next week as opposition parties the Democratic Alliance (DA) and Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) unite in a bid to force him to refund the cash.
The upgrades were valued in 2014 at about 216 million rand (then worth $24 million, 22 million euros).
The DA vowed to go ahead with the legal case, despite Zuma’s apparent climbdown.
DA leader Mmusi Maimane told journalists that Zuma had “done everything to undermine the work of the public protector and the constitution” over the Nkandla controversy.
All parties are jostling for advantage ahead of municipal elections due later this year that could see a fall in support for Zuma’s African National Congress (ANC) party, which has ruled since the end of apartheid.
Zuma’s statement stressed that he “remains critical of a number of factual aspects and legal conclusions” contained in the damning public ombudsman report.