RENOVATIONS to President Jacob Zuma's rural home and the construction of a mall nearby have fueled criticism by his political opponents who accuse his administration of being wasteful and out of touch at a time when the rest of the country faces economic strife and labor unrest.
Zuma's main private residence outside the capital consists of more than a dozen thatched-roof buildings in the rustic style of a South African game lodge. Zuma grew up here, and the compound now includes homes for each of his four wives, a medical clinic and security barracks.
Lindiwe Mazibuko, leader of the opposition Democratic Alliance, called for South Africa's public prosecutor to investigate reports that the government had budgeted $2.4 million to install fencing, guard booths and a helipad at the home - far more than the $12,000 normally allotted each year for security upgrades at the private homes of top officials.
Zuma's spokesman, Mac Maharaj, said the president was personally responsible for paying for many of the renovations. He directed questions about the security installations to the public-works department.
Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi said in a news conference on Friday that the renovations, including new electricity and water mains, met federal guidelines for security installations at a president's private home, especially in a place as remote and underdeveloped as Nkandla.
The flap over the Zuma homestead follows a controversy over plans for a 500-acre shopping and residential development in the president's hometown.
Zuma said it wasn't his decision to build the mall at Nkandla. He said his government was involved in similar, costly work to construct schools, community centers and power installations across the country.
Zuma also told parliament he would "never be embarrassed by the development in the rural areas, never. Particularly Nkandla, where I grew up."
The president's critics say all of the profligate spending is a sign that Zuma is out of touch with the hardships facing many impoverished South Africans.
"How can a leader ask the country to make sacrifices, and tighten belts in hard times, when he leads such publicly funded extravagance," said Mazibuko, the opposition politician.
Violent strikes have hit the mining sector, forcing companies to close mines and mull layoffs. According to city officials, half the district is illiterate; 95% are out of work; a third of the area's 127,000 residents are infected with HIV.