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South African President Jacob Zuma answers questions at the South African General Assembly in Cape Town on March 17.

DAVID HARRISON/AFP/Getty Images

South African President Jacob Zuma has apologized to the nation for the scandal over government funding for his private village home, but he insisted he had acted "in good faith," with no deliberate dishonesty.

In a televised speech Friday night, Mr. Zuma made clear that he would keep fighting for his political survival, despite mounting calls for his resignation after South Africa's highest court ruled that he broke the law by refusing to pay back state money spent on luxuries at his family home in the village of Nkandla.

Mr. Zuma is facing a growing crisis over corruption allegations and the political influence of the Gupta business family, and his televised speech was his latest effort to save his presidency with a mixture of concessions and denials.

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He said he "deeply regretted" that the scandal had dragged on for so long and promised that he would pay back the state funds, as the Constitutional Court of South Africa ordered him to do on Thursday. Those funds, spent on luxuries such as a swimming pool, could amount to $650,000 (U.S.) or more based on early estimates.

But his apology seemed grudging and reluctant. He gave a lengthy defence of his actions in the scandal and apologized for the "confusion" over the issue rather than for his own clear breach of the law. He blamed his underlings for the overspending on his village home, which included $27-million in "security" upgrades.

"With hindsight, there are many matters that could have been handled differently and which should never have been allowed to drag on this long, which we deeply regret," Mr. Zuma told the country. "The matter has caused a lot of frustration and confusion, for which I apologize, on my behalf and on behalf of government."

He added: "I wish to emphasize that I never knowingly or deliberately set out to violate the Constitution."

Mr. Zuma's political party, the African National Congress, holds a strong majority in Parliament and can easily fend off the opposition's attempts to impeach him. But it knows that it will face the wrath of voters at local elections within the next few months, and the party is reported to be deeply split on Mr. Zuma's leadership and whether to replace him.

Shortly after Mr. Zuma's speech, the ANC announced it would hold a special expanded meeting of its national working committee next week to discuss the Nkandla issue. The pressure on Mr. Zuma is likely to mount, but the party officially supported him on Friday.

"It was important that the President humbled himself and apologized to the nation," ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe told a press conference.

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