South Africa

Fort Nkandla, global context

By Greg Nicolson 8 October 2012

He’ll need to host foreign dignitaries, the presidency said. It’s the international norm, they suggested. Redevelopments to President Zuma’s Nkandla homestead have been criticised for costing the taxpayer in excess of R200-million, but his spokesman tried to diffuse the situation by adding an international context. GREG NICOLSON looks at a few of the lavish and the modest private homes of Zuma’s international peers.

United States

Barack Obama hasn’t spent much time at all at his townhouse in Chicago, residing primarily at the White House or on holiday in Hawaii. His predecessor, George W Bush, on the other hand, was famous for the time he spent at his Texas ranch. On working visits, everyone had to be accommodated. The president and his wife stayed in the four-bedroom main house while aides stayed in a five-bedroom trailer or “the governor’s house”, a cottage the Bushes used before the main house was built. The many foreign dignitaries who visited stayed in a two-bedroom guest quarters, adjacent to the main house. Helicopters could land on the property and an aircraft hangar was built to house the president’s chopper just outside the ranch.

The Bushes weren’t short on money and built the ranch themselves after George W became president. But hosting the extra staff and security personnel no doubt cost the taxpayer. Figures on what the state might have spent on security upgrades are elusive, but features such as “real-time secure videoconferencing” to communicate with the CIA were installed. The Bushes now live in Dallas but still own and visit the ranch.

Zimbabwe

President Zuma may have excessive needs, but at least his style leans towards the traditional. The mansion of Zimbabwe’s one and only President Robert Mugabe seems rather palatial in comparison – the desire of your standard anti-imperialist dictator with colonial tastes. His family residence in the wealthy Harare suburb of Borrowdale Brooke is said to have 25 rooms and is tucked away on the hillside.

The area around the house is deemed a protected zone, with police guarding the property and posted along the winding stretch of road that leads to it. When building started in the early 2000s some residents were worried their land would be taken, and the Mugabes have recently refused to let a church be built on a plot eight stands away because the congregation and its noise could compromise Mugabe’s safety.

When the president was cornered in an interview with Sky News, he denied the mansion was built off the profits of corruption. The builders were Yugoslav, with Zanu-PF was footing the bill. The tiles and roofing supplies came from the Chinese and the timber came from a former Malaysian prime minister, he rambled. The Malaysian government strenuously denied donating building materials to a leader of Mugabe’s ilk.

Australia

A year after Zuma came to office, Julia Gillard became the prime minister of Australia and chose to keep her modest property in Melbourne’s west. The single-storey brick home sits on a lot the size of any other in a quiet street of Altona, a suburb with median housing prices around the same as city’s median. It’s an average home in an unremarkable suburb. Despite Gillard’s almost R4.5-million salary, recent pictures show many of the original (old and ugly) fittings remain. Security had to be beefed up, with alarms installed and a fence built. Police are posted outside around the clock.

The house is more like where Zuma might keep his maids than live himself. Then again, the two leaders’ circumstances are different: Gillard is unmarried and has no children. Foreign dignitaries are hosted at her official residences, in Canberra and Sydney.

Ukraine

President Viktor Yanukovych must have gotten used to living in a palace. In a murky series of events, the Ukrainian president acquired one of the country’s most stunning properties. The 140-hectare Mezhyhirya Monastery has sat on the bank of the Dnieper River for almost 700 years. After a 10-year tussle for the main house, Yanukovych became president and took a prime slice of the land for himself, apparently without paying a cent.

During Ukraine’s time as part of the Soviet Union much of the property was destroyed. The government set about building a five-metre steel wall for Yanukovych and secured the perimeter with police guards. It didn’t stop there. Rumour has it the developments cost tens of millions of dollars and the property now features a helipad, bowling alley, shooting range and a zoo. The president reportedly had two kangaroos, but one escaped while the other died of pneumonia. In August, a journalist snuck into the compound and saw a golf course, lakes and a house on water made of gold, marble and redwood. 

Yanukovych is said to have acquired the property, which now features a towering wooden mansion, through a series of illegal tenders and bogus trade-offs. Journalists continue to try to get access, seen as a symbol of corruption in the country. Sound familiar? DM

South African President Jacob Zuma dances as he marries his fiancee Bongi Ngema at a traditional ceremony known as “Umgcagco” at his home in Nkandla, in South Africa’s KwaZulu Natal province, April 20, 2012. REUTERS/Elmond Jiyane/GCIS/Handout

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