Cape Town (AFP) - South African President Jacob Zuma fought back in parliament Wednesday against demands that he repay millions of dollars spent on his private residence -- saying he "never took a penny".
Against a background of previously chaotic scenes in parliament over the issue, Zuma took head-on the question of when he would "pay back the money" -- a now popular chant both inside and outside the national assembly.
"Never have I thought when I would pay back the money," Zuma said.
He noted that he did not know how much of the $24 million spent on "security upgrades" at his rural home in Nkandla in the eastern KwaZulu-Natal province he might be required to repay.
"That needs determination by those authorised to do so," he said, adding that he had "never dodged" the question.
Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, the country's ombudswoman, found that Zuma and his family had "unduly benefited" from the work on his home, which included a swimming pool and cattle kraal, and recommended that he repay some of the money.
Under public pressure, Zuma then appointed the minister of police to determine how much he should repay.
The minister, who is a Zuma appointee, has not yet made a recommendation.
The amount of $24 million would buy several of South Africa's most luxurious homes in the economic capital Johannesburg or on the scenic Cape coast.
Architects and contractors have been accused of inflating costs by Zuma's supporters, while critics say he could not have been unaware of what was happening at his own home.
Zuma also denied that he had interfered with police and prosecuting authorities to ensure there were no further investigations into 700 other corruption charges against him, which were dropped shortly before he became president in 2009.
Zuma was prevented from answering questions for almost an hour as opposition lawmakers fought to have a full explanation of his position on the Nkandla scandal.
But once he began speaking, he appeared to have defused the situation -- for the day at least -- and at one stage even had his arch-enemies in the Economic Freedom Fighters chuckling at his comments.
The opposition has demanded that a new date should be set for Zuma to provide a full answer to the question of when he will "pay back the money".