President Zuma during a press briefing after a meeting with the National Planning Commission at the Union Buildings in Pretoria. South Africa. 03/07/2013

Johannesburg - President Jacob Zuma said on Sunday that he did not ask for the multi-million-rand state-funded makeover of his Nkandla home after an ombudsman found that he unduly benefited from the renovations.

The ombudsman said the R246-million spent on the renovations at Zuma's rural homestead was excessive and ordered him to repay some of the costs.

But in his first public reaction to the damning report released 11 days ago, Zuma shifted the blame to government officials, saying he did not ask for the renovations and he would not repay.

“They did this without telling me,” he was shown saying in local vernacular on the local private television ANN7. “So why should I pay for something I did not ask for?”

He was speaking casually during a door-to-door campaign in Gugulethu, outside Cape Town, for the May 7 vote in which he is seeking re-election.

The cost of the refurbishments, which include a helipad, a swimming pool and even a chicken coop, have ballooned to R246m from the initial estimate of R65-million in 2009.

It was the first time Zuma commented publicly on the so-called “Nkandlagate”.

Already his ruling African National Congress, whose popularity is flagging ahead of May 7 elections, has said officials implicated in the scandal should be called to account.

The opposition Democratic Alliance has launched a criminal corruption case against Zuma over the upgrades and plans impeachment proceedings.

The splurge on the house - nestled in the verdant hills of Zuma's KwaZulu-Natal political stronghold - has caused anger in a country where there is widespread poverty and where 10 million people live on welfare. - Sapa-AFP