Johannesburg - She was accused of having a politically charged agenda, dragged to court by several ministers and threatened with a criminal investigation into her and her officials.
But 28 months later, for Public Protector Thuli Madonsela and her team, the upgrades at President Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla homestead are finally part of a closed case.
And she now hands over to the Special Investigating Unit to take the matter forward.
All Madonsela wants the public to remember is that it is not the public protector who makes the rules.
The demanding and controversial investigation culminated this week in the release of her report revealing that Zuma should pay back some of the R245 million for upgrades that did not constitute security necessities.
These included a swimming pool, paving, a visitors’ centre, a kraal, chicken run and a culvert.
Speaking to The Sunday Independent just days after releasing her report, Madonsela said the past few days had been better than the past few months.
It had been an emotionally exhausting journey, she said.
Intellectually, it was not a difficult case.
All she had to do was evaluate whether public power had been exercised in accordance with the law and in public interest.
“The enquiry was that simple.”
It was, however, the politicisation of the case that was unprecedented and not expected.
“I did not have the tools to deal with it,” she explained.
“It was difficult for me with all the accusations that were made against me and my decision not to say anything about it.
“It was important for me to treat this case like any other case,” she said.
Although Madonsela had initially tried to respond to some of the allegations, it “kept becoming a game of people” and she decided it was wiser not to respond and rather just to let the process flow.
“It was a good decision,” said Madonsela, in retrospect.
Some of the responses – although justified – were seen as an attack on her attackers, said Madonsela.
Even statements that her office issued were twisted.
In the end, it was for the public to observe whether or not she came out with her dignity intact, she said.
Madonsela made no findings against Zuma about his initial defence of the Nkandla upgrades in Parliament, where he said no government money had built his house and that he had a bond.
She found his behaviour was excusable, saying he made a “bona fide” mistake.
This week she said the bond was a different allegation on its own.
“I made no finding on that.
“The bond exists in the President’s name but I could not make a determination if it had financed the preisdent’s dwellings as I had no information on how much he was billed fore. I have left it to the Special Investigating Unit to investigate.
“When the SIU properly analyses the documents they will establish who paid for what,” she said, denying she had held back on pinning charges against Zuma.
Madonsela had not held back on her criticism of the country’s number one citizen.
Describing the upgrades as “excessive Rolls Royce security constituting an island in a sea of poverty and paucity of public infrastructure”, she found he should have questioned the project.
Neither did she shy away from the politics.
In her report, she detailed a sudden objection from Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa in 2013.
“He questioned the need in the light of the government having established an internal task team that had made findings on the matter and that the internal process had not yet been concluded, as investigations by the auditor-general and the Special Investigating Unit, which had been recommended by the task team had not yet been undertaken.
“There was also a veiled questioning of the authority of my office to investigate a security matter and to access related security documents,” she said.
“The way people behaved was unprecedented.
“Never before had government officials openly tried to prevent an investigation from carrying on.”
Although the investigators did not get extra protection and were not threatened, there was an intimation that one of the investigators was pushing an agenda, Madonsela admitted. Some of the investigators were forced to change their cellphone numbers because of “funny” things that happened.
In her report, Madonsela gave voice to some of the delays and frustrations that had piled up in recent months.
“The reality is that the presidency was part of the problem, as were other organs of state regarding the delays,” she said.
“My team and I sat in silence when organs of state, that had requested extension after extension to submit submissions in response to my provisional report, said nothing when insults were hurled at my office by their colleagues or supporters in Parliament and civil society for allegedly sitting on the report in pursuit of a political agenda.
“The presidency repeated the concerns in its final submissions, despite having taken a cumulative period of nine months to supply requested information.”
The 447-page report also did not mince words about where some of the delays in the report had originated.
At the top of the list was the president, who delayed the report by nine months. Other government departments had delayed the report by up to four months.
An incident which could have potentially delayed the report until after the May 7 elections was former national police commissioner Bheki Cele being sucked into the investigation. In January Madonsela had summoned him, alleging he was implicated in the Nkandla investigation.
The letter elicited several letters from Cele, who also had a one-on-one meeting with Madonsela.
The incident, however, was watered down.
This week Madonsela said Cele “panicked over nothing”.
She explained that during the final draft of the provisional report, she had given everyone notices that she may have to make an adverse finding against them
At the centre of Cele’s gripe is Madonsela’s failure to subpoena Mthethwa for documents proving that he was responsible for the spending on the upgrades, despite an undertaking from her in January that she would do so.
But Madonsela dismissed the issues raised by Cele, saying he was one of the signatories on the advisory note to the Minister of Police notifying the president that his private home had been declared a national key point.
He was not the only accounting officer who was notified.
But it was imperative that she warned people so that information did not come out in the incorrect way.
“I got these documents from the police, but I did not attach any significance to it.
“In the end I found that the minister needed to apply his mind.
“It is clear he did not apply his mind – even the language that was used in the declaration did not sound like it was written to a president.”
“There was nothing more to get.
“The police did not comply with the National Key Points Act and it was improper to bring it into the upgrades,” said Madonsela.
As the DA calls for Zuma’s impeachment, the Economic Freedom Fighters rushes to charge Zuma criminally and various ANC leagues defend the president, Madonsela said that at a political level people were free to do what they wanted to do.
On her side, though, in terms of the Nkandla report, her work was finally done and dusted.