Thursday, 20 March 2014
Pretoria (AFP) - South Africa's public ombudsman ruled Wednesday that some of the $23 million taxpayer-funded improvements to President Jacob Zuma's luxurious private residence were excessive and unlawful.
In a scathing report issued just weeks ahead of South Africa's elections, ombudsman Thuli Madonsela also ordered Zuma to repay part of the costs of the upgrades at his village homestead.
"Some of these measures can be legitimately classified as unlawful and the acts involved constitute improper conduct and maladministration," Madonsela said.
The long-awaited report, titled "Secure in Comfort" -- which also implicated several ministers -- found that Zuma violated the executive ethics code by failing to protect state resources and that there was "excessive" spending.
Madonsela blamed the government for the two years it took to produce the report, saying Zuma had taken nine months to respond to her questions.
"There is nothing political about the report, all I have done as the ombudsman is to discharge my responsibility. And I have done that."
The opposition Democratic Alliance said that in light of the "damning findings" it would urgently initiate impeachment proceedings against Zuma.
The ombudsman ordered Zuma to pay a "reasonable percentage" of the cost of renovations not related to security at the sprawling homestead in the southern village of Nklanda.
However the exact amount was not disclosed and Madonsela said it would be up to the Treasury to determine a figure.
In a terse statement, Zuma said he would study the findings and "will communicate his response in due course".
Renovations at so-called "Zumaville" cost taxpayers 246 million rand ($23 million) in a project touted as a security upgrade but which included a visitors' centre, swimming pool, an amphitheatre, private clinic and even a chicken coop.
"The expenditure incurred by the state... went beyond what was reasonably required for the president's security, was unconsciously excessive and caused a misappropriation of funds," the report said.
- Opulence on a grand scale -
Madonsela also ordered Zuma to "reprimand the ministers involved for the appalling manner in which the Nkandla project was handled and state funds were abused".
Zuma is running for re-election in the May 7 vote but his popularity has taking a beating and he was booed at the memorial for South Africa's first black president Nelson Mandela in December.
The vote promises to be the toughest yet for Zuma and his ruling African National Congress (ANC) which has won every election since the end of apartheid in 1994 by a landslide.
A survey late last year showed that support for the ANC had dropped to 53 percent, a slide of 10 percentage points from a year earlier.
The splurge on the house - nestled in the verdant hills of Zuma's political stronghold -- has caused anger in a country where there is widespread poverty and where 10 million people live on welfare.
In contrast to Zuma's luxury lifestyle, some of his rural neighbours are without electricity or running water. Nearby residents collect water from communal taps and streams which often run dry.
The ombudsman said the allegation by a complainant that the Nkandla project constitutes "opulence on a grand scale is substantiated."
It "leaves one with the impression of excessive and unconscionable 'Rolls Royce' security constituting an island in a sea of poverty and paucity of public infrastructure."
"The manner in which the Nkandla project was administered and implemented gave me the impression of a toxic concoction of a lack of leadership, a lack of control and focused self-interest," said Madonsela
The home, which Zuma rarely visits as he has official residences in Pretoria, Cape Town and Durban -- also boasts its own helipad.
Madonsela said the upgrades were by far the most expensive for a sitting head of state, including Mandela.
Zuma last year denied that he and his family had benefitted from the security upgrades.
But Madonsela said "this is not true" and that Zuma had "unduly benefited from the enormous capital investment from non-security measures".
While presidents and former leaders were legally entitled to reasonable security upgrades, Madonsela said such additions as a swimming pool did not meet the criteria.
Abidjan (AFP) - Remember the afro, the natural hairstyle forever synonymous with the "black is beautiful" movement championed by African-Americans in the 1960s?
A group in Ivory Coast is trying to persuade black women to turn the page on their expensive hair-straighteners, extensions and wigs and go natural instead.
Blending "natural" with "happy" to produce "Nappy", the group calls itself Nappys de Babi -- Babi being a nickname for Abidjan, Ivory Coast's bustling economic capital.
Founded more than two years ago, the support group now boasts some 2,400 members, meeting every two months in Abidjan's trendy Cocody district to share advice, tips, and practical help about keeping their hair natural.
Nappys de Babi bucks a deeply ingrained belief all across Africa that straight hair conforms best to an ideal of beauty.
In Ivory Coast, most women were teenagers when they began renouncing their naturally kinky, frizzy hair.
As a result, most do not know how to care for it and "make it beautiful", says Miriam Diaby, one of Nappys de Babi's founders.
"Society frowns on 'afro' hair overflowing all over the place," she said, lamenting that women have to opt for "conventional" styles involving straightening or using false hair in the form of extensions or wigs.
The little knowledge on haircare is evident in some questions posed at the group's meeting, with one participant asking: "How do I know if my hair is hydrated?"
"Well, when they are stiff and dry, that means they aren't hydrated at all," replies Bibi Gagno, who created a motivational website, omgiloveyourhair.com.
- 'Like a pariah' -
The African sisters of the 1960s American "Black Is Beautiful" advocates need to emancipate themselves from the dominant white model, the Nappys say.
"When I arrived in Abidjan (after growing up in the United States and Europe), I noticed, and it struck me, that all the advertising showed light-skinned women with long, smooth hair," said Gagno.
The fair skin -- achieved in the Ivory Coast mainly through constant application of carcinogenic whitening products -- is "synonymous to success", the businesswoman said.
Going against the grain is deemed provocative.
"People are uncomfortable about it. When they see you wearing natural hair, they look at you like you are a pariah, like there is a problem, when actually, it should be normal," said Liliana Lambert.
Lambert, a 27-year-old half European, who adorns her naturally frizzy hair with flowers, said people "want to touch such hair all the time" because they don't know what it is like.
"It's just ignorance," she said.
The only Nappy-boy at the session, Ange-Dady Akre-Loba, a 28-year-old stylist with mid-length locks, said men, too, get odd looks if they do not stick with the usual close-cropped style worn by Ivory Coast men.
"From five centimetres (two inches), it is considered too long here... Many people would say I have a bit too much hair," he said.
Less conformist men are expected to "remain discreet", said Akre-Loba, who let his own hair grow out during the post-electoral violence that rocked the country during 2010-2011.
Leaving your home at the time was potentially dangerous and most of the barbers were closed anyway so the insecurity offered Akre-Loba the excuse to finally go natural, he said.
He has since learnt to ignore what others think and "try to carry on regardless and to be myself".
Rachel Dilley, a 48-year-old mother of three, recently appeared on a British morning show to talk about contracting HIV as a middle-aged woman.
Dilley was a guest on ITV’s This Morning and recounted her tale of contacting the virus nearly a decade ago from a summer fling. The mom, who was about to turn 40 when she was infected, told the show’s hosts that although she had unprotected sex with her partner, she never thought she could contract HIV because she “didn’t know anything about HIV” and “thought you got it in Africa.”
Dilley added: ”I didn’t know a white person had ever got it.”
Dilley’s ordeal began when, after weeks of not feeling well, she decided to see her doctor who found that she had malaria-like symptoms. Dilley’s doctor suggested she take a HIV test, just to rule it out, but two weeks later she was shocked to find out she was positive.
“My first words were: ‘Am I going to die?’ I thought it was a death sentence,” she recalled in an interview.
“I knew nothing about HIV or AIDs and everything I read on the Internet terrified me. When I told my children, they were devastated. My daughter was so affected she couldn’t speak and my younger son said: ‘Are you going to die?’ I couldn’t have felt more ashamed because I had no one to blame but myself.”
While it’s unfortunate Dilley was infected with HIV, I find it difficult to believe she’s never heard of a single White person (particularly since there have been tons of famous ones) who contracted the virus. Moreover, her ignorance around HIV only further highlights the need for comprehensive sexual health education at every age.