Mandela's death takes heat off South Africa's Zuma - for now

Fri Dec 6, 2013 8:25am EST
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By Ed Cropley

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - A week ago, South African President Jacob Zuma was a leader on the back foot, ridiculed in a front-page cartoon by a newspaper accusing him of blowing $20 million of public money on a security upgrade to his private home.

Seven days later, he has gained some political respite through the death of anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela, an event of such enormity in the "Rainbow Nation" that Zuma's troubles could be banished from headlines well into next year.

Seldom comfortable in set-piece events, Zuma delivered the news of Mandela's passing late on Thursday with rare gravitas - a very different figure from the cartoon character depicted sipping a cocktail and floating in a pool of cash in last week's Mail and Guardian newspaper.

The weekly dealt Zuma a serious blow with a report alleging the security upgrade to his Nkandla home included a cattle enclosure and swimming pool - referred to in state documents as a "fire pool" on the grounds it could double up as a water reservoir for fire-fighting purposes.

"It's been a very tough couple of weeks for Zuma, this week in particular with all the fallout from Nkandla," said William Gumede, a political analyst at Johannesburg's Wits University.

"But Mandela might offer him some kind of reprieve. At least people's minds are off him for the time being."

The ANC has stood by Zuma over the Nkandla accusations, saying it believed he had done no wrong. The president's office has not commented.

"DAY IN HISTORY"   Continued...

South African President Jacob Zuma reacts during a news conference at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Colombo November 17, 2013. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte