South Africa's Zuma sees no vote impact from $23 million home upgrade row

JOHANNESBURG Mon May 5, 2014 12:23pm EDT

South Africa's President Jacob Zuma greets supporters of his ruling African National Congress (ANC) party during their final election rally in Soweto, May 4, 2014. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

South Africa's President Jacob Zuma greets supporters of his ruling African National Congress (ANC) party during their final election rally in Soweto, May 4, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Mike Hutchings

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JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South African President Jacob Zuma on Monday brushed off suggestions an anti-corruption report criticizing a $23 million state-funded security upgrade to his home would damage his party at an election this week.

The African National Congress (ANC), in power since the end of apartheid in 1994, is expected to win almost 64 percent in the May 7 vote, down only slightly from nearly 66 percent five years ago, a poll published in South Africa's Sunday Times said.

However, Zuma's personal approval rating declined to 58 percent, from 65 percent on March 11, the poll showed.

Between the surveys, Public Prosecutor Thuli Madonsela released a report which said Zuma had "benefited unduly" from the "excessive" upgrades to his Nkandla home, which included a chicken run, amphitheatre and swimming pool.

"It's not an issue with the voters," said Zuma, who is expected to be voted in for a second five-year term by parliament after the election.

"I'm not worried about Nkandla. The people are not worried about it. I think the people who are worried about it is you guys, the media, and the opposition," he told reporters at a news conference marking the end of the ANC's campaign.

Zuma defended the upgrades to his home and said accusations against him were unfair given the importance of protecting any head of state, stating examples of serious violence he and his family had endured in the past.

"My homestead was burned twice during violence and secondly my wife, criminals came, raped my wife," he said, referring to incidents when he was a provincial minister from 1994 to 1999.

Zuma has been pilloried over the Nkandla scandal, including by senior members within the ruling ANC and by swathes of angry youths who carry out almost daily protests in townships over poor government services and a lack of jobs.

But the ANC's legacy as the party that freed millions of blacks from the shackles of white-minority rule ensures it maintains a fiercely loyal support base - and even many of its detractors would rather not vote than support its opponents.

Zuma, a polygamous Zulu traditionalist with no formal education, has been beset by scandal throughout his political career. He managed to avoid being tried for corruption in 2009 when the state withdrew its case on a technicality.

(Editing by Louise Ireland)

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