What Zuma should say about Nkandla

President Jacob Zuma Jacob Zuma is campaigning for a second term as South Africa's president

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President Jacob Zuma is required to account to parliament on Wednesday regarding South Africa's Nkandla scandal - the expensive state-funded upgrades to his private home. Some of his critics would like to see him impeached, or charged. Mr Zuma insists he did nothing wrong and his party, the ANC, has largely sought to play down the affair.

So what should, or might, Mr Zuma say to parliament - within reason? I'm no spin-doctor, or speech-writer, but I thought I'd have a go:

Comrades,

Presidents come and go.

I learned that a long time ago, in the prison yard on Robben Island. Loyalty to the party comes first - collective discipline, collective responsibility. That is the ANC way, and even Nelson Mandela could not challenge it.

Liberation and money

In our short democracy we have already had four presidents. We should be proud of that. Some of our African neighbours, who gained their independence long before us, have shown less enthusiasm for diversity and debate.

Satellite images showed Mr Zuma's growing residence

And so I make no apology for using these past five years, not to lead from the front and push my own agendas or policies, but to support the collective will of our party as it seeks to build on its extraordinary achievements across South Africa - and yes, to confront the many challenges we still face.

But collective responsibility can only go so far. I have taken note of the criticism directed at me for the security upgrades to my family home in Nkandla.

I believe much of that criticism is unjustified and I welcome the public protector's conclusion that I did not mislead parliament about the work undertaken.

Spending on presidents' private homes

Mr Zuma's Nkandla residence in 2013 - satellite image
  • PW Botha: $16,100
  • FW de Klerk: $22,000
  • Nelson Mandela: $2.9m on two residences
  • Thabo Mbeki: $1.1m
  • Jacob Zuma: $23m on rural Nkandla residence

All figures in 2013 financial terms

Source: Public protector report

She said she accepted that he was referring only to his family dwellings, and had therefore made a "bona fide mistake".

But I also accept that, as a public figure, I am under a particularly heavy obligation to set an example of financial probity.

'Proud family man'

Let me be clear - I did not join the liberation struggle for money. I have not devoted these past 20 years to democratic politics for personal profit.

It is true that in 1994, many of us in the ANC leadership - Nelson Mandela included - found ourselves in difficult financial circumstances. We had emerged from prison, or the underground, or exile, without the means to support our families.

Some of us received help from businessmen or peddlers of influence. Some of us became ensnared - through ignorance or greed - in awkward relationships.

But today I stand before you as a proud South African, a proud family man, a proud ANC member and I say: "Let the law take its course. No-one is above the law - least of all the president of this miraculous nation."

A close examination of investigations into the work at Nkandla shows that mistakes were made. Money was wasted. A strict division between private and state expenses was not properly and transparently maintained.

Nelson Mandela with Jacob Zuma behind him in Johannesburg on 19 April 2009 Nelson Mandela also faced financial difficulties

It would be easy for me to pass all the blame onto the structures and officials who should have kept track of the costs. Over time, no doubt, reforms will be implemented to prevent future incidents of this kind.

But today, as your president, I acknowledge that the buck stops with me. I am sorry if - unknowingly - I contributed to any wasting of public funds in the security upgrades at Nkandla.

I will refund the state whatever the public protector concludes is appropriate. The strength - and integrity - of our state's precious institutions is more important that any individual.

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The daily protests that we see across this country are not simply a sign of the frustrations of the poorest in our society”

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But this is not a resignation speech. I serve, as I said before, at the will of the ANC, and will continue to serve as leader for as long as the party deems fit, or until a court of law finds me guilty of an offence.

In the meantime, we have an election to win. And speaking of that election, I'd like to end this speech today with a new campaign initiative.

In contemplating the importance of individual accountability in politics, I have had time to reflect on the need to reform our political system. For years, the party lists at the heart of our democratic electoral system have served us well.

They have enabled smaller parties to gain seats in, and bring their voices to, our vibrant parliament.

But it is time for change. The daily protests that we see across this country are not simply a sign of the frustrations of the poorest in our society. They are evidence of a disconnection between the public and its politicians.

And so I will be fighting, as your president, to persuade our party and alliance members to adopt a largely constituency-based system for MPs. In future, those of you seated here in parliament must be elected by, and directly answerable to, the communities you serve.

The ANC is in my blood. It always will be. But as our democracy evolves, so our priorities must too. Our first loyalty must be to our constituents. That is how our liberation movement will adapt, and endure, and triumph.

I thank you.

Andrew Harding Article written by Andrew Harding Andrew Harding Africa correspondent

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