By Ed Cropley
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa's top anti-corruption watchdog says President Jacob Zuma should repay some of a $21 million publicly funded "security upgrade" to his private home that included a swimming pool and cattle enclosure, a newspaper said on Friday.
The Mail and Guardian weekly said a provisional report by the Public Protector entitled 'Opulence on a Grand Scale' found Zuma had derived "substantial" personal gain from the improvements to his private compound at Nkandla in the rolling hills of KwaZulu-Natal province.
The leaked findings of Public Protector Thuli Madonsela's investigation will reinforce a perception of runaway corruption under Zuma and could hurt him and the ruling African National Congress (ANC) in an election due in six months.
Zuma's spokesman declined to comment, while Madonsela's office said the leak was "unethical and unlawful".
The ANC threw its weight behind Zuma, saying it believed he had done nothing wrong.
The newspaper said the improvements included a visitors' lounge, amphitheatre, cattle enclosure and swimming pool - referred to in documents as a 'fire pool' on the grounds that it could double up as a water reservoir for fire-fighting purposes.
The government went to court this month to try to prevent Madonsela from releasing the outcome of her investigation, arguing that cabinet ministers needed more time to work out whether its findings could jeopardize Zuma's security.
It dropped its challenge after Madonsela, a quietly spoken lawyer seemingly unfazed by the pressure of her role, said she had gone to great lengths to ensure the report posed no threat.
The Mail and Guardian said Madonsela's report accused Zuma, a polygamous Zulu traditionalist whose five years in office have been littered with scandals over violating ethics codes by failing to protect state resources and misleading parliament.
Zuma told parliament last year all the buildings in the sprawling compound had been built "by ourselves as family and not by the government".
Opposition parties seized on this particular aspect of the report to attack Zuma, who became president in 2009 only after corruption charges against him were withdrawn on a technicality.
Prominent social campaigner Zackie Achmat launched an online petition for him to be impeached and the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) called for no-confidence vote in parliament, even though Zuma is shielded by the ANC's nearly two-thirds majority.
The report also found some of the more legitimate security features, such as 20 houses for police protection, a clinic and two helipads, were excessive and should have been placed in a nearby town to benefit the broader community, the paper said.
The paper estimated some of the questionable features of the upgrade at 20 million rand ($2 million). It also said Zuma had had his private architect drafted in as "principal agent" to oversee the upgrade, even though he was not a security expert.
The 215 million rand spent on Zuma's home is in stark contrast to state money spent on improving the security of previous South African presidents, the Mail and Guardian said.
FW de Klerk, South Africa's last white president, who left office in 1994, received 236,000 rand for upgrades to his house, while 32 million rand was spent on Nelson Mandela's home.
The Nkandla saga has been rich fodder for South Africa's newspapers, especially since the government invoked apartheid-era security laws to declare the compound a "national key point" and prevent photographs of it from being published.
When State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele reminded the media of the laws at a news conference this month, newspapers responded by splashing photos of the complex across their front pages beneath headlines such as "So, arrest us" and "Look away!"
($1 = 10.2228 South African rand)
(Reporting by Ed Cropley; Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Gareth Jones)