David Frum

10.26.12

South Africa's Sad Slide into Corruption

The president of South Africa earns $272,000 a year. A handsome wage, but hardly riches. Somehow, though, Jacob Zuma has acquired the means to build himself a multi-dwelling compound. The presidential home

includes dozens of smooth, contractor-built dwellings, a helicopter landing pad, a tennis court and a soccer field. A sports stadium and some underground bunkers are in the works, according to news reports. Glassy, newly paved roads lead to it, and the taupe walls of its neatly thatched rondavels are spotless despite the bucolic setting.

This compound belongs to the most powerful man in the country, President Jacob Zuma, and is now the subject of multiple probes over how $27 million of government money came to be spent on upgrades to his private home, ostensibly for security. Tens of millions more dollars have been spent on roads around the compound and the village.

Once it was hoped that post-apartheid South Africa would become a different kind of state from the continent's other sad examples. Those hopes have faded with the descent of leadership from Nelson Mandela to the high-handed and crotchety Thabo Mbeki and now to Jacob Zuma, best known in the outside world being acquitted of rape in 2005 and having corruption and racketeering charges against him dropped in 2009.