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Cape Town -
Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa on Thursday asked “nicely” for an end to the publication of any pictures of President Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla homestead, failing which transgressors would feel the full might of the law.
The danger was that some photographs could expose security features and this was classified, he said during a briefing on this week’s cabinet meeting, where ministers’ interaction with the public protector was discussed, but not the draft report on R208 million taxpayer-funded security upgrades and operations at Nkandla.
“If anybody who’s not vetted, who has no security clearance, has in his or her possession classified documents, that person is flouting the law and is facing the might of the law. We are asking nicely everybody from desisting from this (publishing photographs),” Mthethwa said, adding if need be there would be “communication with media houses on this matter”.
But when asked whether the president’s life had been put in danger by the publication of such photographs, Mthethwa replied: “I don’t know.”
His carrot-and-stick comment echoed that of State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele.
“We are just appealing to, we are just warning and reminding the public they shouldn’t break the laws. In terms of the National Key Points Act, no one, including those in the media, is allowed to take images… It is not done anywhere. You have not seen the images of the White House, where the security features are. It is not done in any democracy,” Cwele said. “We are not supposed to do what we are seeing in the media. We are just advising you not to do so. If you continue to do so, you are breaking the laws.”
However, if Cwele had gone to Google – www.whitehouse.gov – he would have found a virtual tour of the White House, showing the floor plans of both US President Barack Obama’s residence and the West Wing, where government business happens.
While perhaps not highlighting exactly where the security centre is, the White House virtual tour of the residence pops out photographs of various rooms, including the flower shop, and hosts a YouTube video of the presidential kitchen. And floor plans are also featured on the pages for the West Wing, with descriptions and photographs of various rooms.
Visitors can take self-guided tours between 7.30am to 11.30am from Tuesdays to Thursdays and from 7.30am to 1.30pm on Fridays and Saturdays, excluding federal holidays, according to the official White House website, which also features information on Airforce One, the presidential plane.
And Nkandla is easily found, photographs and all, on Google Maps.
Critics of the National Key Point Act have long pointed out that, without a publicly accessible list, no one actually knew what a national key point was and thus could run into legal troubles unwittingly.
The South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) rejected the comments that it was illegal to publish photographs of Nkandla.
“It unfortunately seems that the ministers are using security laws to avoid accounting to the public on the Nkandla upgrades.It has never been the intention of the media to undermine President Zuma’s security by publishing these pictures. Similarly, we publish photos of other national key points like the Union Buildings and Parliament on an almost daily basis,” Sanef said.
“We will continue to publish images of the Nkandla upgrades because we firmly believe there is immense public interest in doing so. To stop doing so will be a betrayal of our duty as watchdogs of democracy.”
DA MP Dianne Kohler Barnard called on Mthethwa to withdraw his comments.
“He must now do the right thing and unconditionally retract these comments without delay. Anything less would reveal that he is more committed to apartheid-era draconian legislation than to accountability and transparency,” she said.
Earlier this month, Mthethwa said during a parliamentary debate on the relevance of the apartheid-era National Key Points Act that he would submit a list of such sites to the joint standing committee on intelligence as part of the process, including a police review of national key points, and public consultations on possible legislative amendments.
This is the only parliamentary committee to sit behind closed doors.
At Thursday’s briefing, ministers alsoasserted their role as the arbiters of national security, insisting the R208m the state spent on Nkandla was only for security.
“No one is an arbiter on national security, but the national executive and Parliament. No other person has the power to override the national executive,” Mthethwa said during a discussion of the ministers’ interaction with the public protector over security concerns in the draft Nkandla report.
While there was “mutual respect” for Chapter 9 institutions like the public protector, Mthethwa maintained: “We are not going to outsource (national security) to anyone… national security rests with cabinet and Parliament.”
In asserting the cabinet’s role as arbiter of national security, the battle lines of further clashes over Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s Nkandla probe seem to have been drawn.
Cwele said the government would invoke its policies like the 2003 cabinet policy, which places no caps on spending on presidential security, and laws, including the defence and police acts to the National Key Point Act and the current Protection of State Information Act – both dating back to apartheid – to ensure the executive did not “outsource” its constitutionally obliged functions of the national executive.
“All that we are doing, we are exercising our constitutional mandate in terms of section 198 of the constitution, which says national executive and Parliament have got the responsibility to uphold national security, including that of the head of state, the president,” Cwele added.
On state spending at Nkandla, Cwele maintained: “Let’s be clear: Were these things necessary? All the assessments showed they were necessary. It was the manner in which they were managed which was wrong.”
Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi confirmed the final figure for government spending on Nkandla had risen to R208m “because there were final touch ups that had to be made”.
And Mthethwa added: “The state committed itself, committed its funds on the security of the president’s residence. No funds were committed on the houses… of the president.”