Mar. 25 (GIN) – South Africa’s ruling African National Congress is trying to deflect harsh criticism over a finding that President Jacob Zuma’s country residence was upgraded with expensive improvements that were billed to taxpayers.

The damning report, released last week, concluded a two year study by public protector Thuli Madonsela.

According to the report, entitled “Secure in comfort”, Madonsela found Zuma had contravened the executive ethics code because he failed to stop the spiraling costs of the upgrades at his country property, as is his duty as a member of the Cabinet.

Red-faced ANC leaders, in a novel strategy, now insist they were misled by others to believe that, among other things, a swimming pool was in fact a “fire pool” to hold water in case of fire.

Party leaders Gwede Mantashe and Zweli Mkhize said they want action again the national police commissioner who, they alleged, led them astray with inaccurate information.

The public protector, meanwhile, complained that she was the target of hostile threats during her investigation.

In her report, Madonsela found that President Zuma improperly benefited from a grand, excessive, opulent and obscene government upgrade to his homestead and should repay a “reasonable percentage” of about R20-million worth of upgrades.

The police facilities were “obscenely excessive”, she said. And moving Zuma’s neighbors to make way for the construction was also not justifiable, she said, despite the government’s claims that they were a threat to security.

“I could not find any authority or legitimate reason for classifying the relocation of the households at state expense as a security measure as envisaged in any of the authorizing security instruments.” Features for which Zuma should bear at least part of the cost, Madonsela said, include the swimming pool (which never really was a “fire pool”) and the cattle kraal, which she said Zuma himself had had a hand in.

Madonsela found that Zuma was aware of the scale and cost of the construction at Nkandla throughout and that he should have taken steps to stop the escalating costs. Instead, Zuma regularly complained that the upgrades were not happening fast enough.

The dramatic ballooning of costs on the Nkandla project was closely linked to the actions of Zuma’s personal architect, Minenhle Makhanya.

Finally, Ms. Madonsela questioned why the swimming pool, the helipads, a military clinic and housing for members of the police’s VIP protection service were not located closer to the community rather than behind the security fence of the Zuma compound. The government’s explanations, she said, were inadequate.