Johannesburg - The Nkandla report is likely to test South Africa’s democracy as it heads into a critical national election.
The report, which is to be released on Wednesday afternoon, could see the ANC turn on President Jacob Zuma if the ANC loses support in the upcoming elections as a result of the probe into the R208 million spent on his private Nkandla home.
This is according to political and constitutional experts on the eve of the release of Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s report today, which was expected to detail Zuma’s involvement in the upgrades at his home.
The experts said it was unlikely that Zuma would face any sort of action, even if he was directly implicated in the report – for now.
“I just can’t see them taking decisive action unless they face an electoral setback,” said Professor Daryl Glaser, head of the Department of Political Studies at Wits.
“Anything under 60 percent (at the polls) would raise questions and render Zuma more vulnerable. As we’ve seen, the ANC can act ruthlessly against some of its members,” Glaser said.
Political lecturer at the University of Johannesburg, Piet Croucamp, said the Nkandla report could become a “real determinant” in election results which could lead to a bid to remove Zuma later.
“The ANC will be under real pressure this election because of Jacob Zuma’s alleged connection with corruption and Nkandla,” he said.
He agreed the ANC was unlikely to take action against Zuma immediately, but said legal action could be taken in the next few years against him if he were directly implicated in corrupt activities.
“Then it becomes a whole new political ballgame,” he said.
Over the weekend, the ANC downplayed the possible impact of the report, months after the party already issued crib sheets to its electioneering volunteers on how to answer any prickly questions about the R208m taxpayer-funded upgrades at Zuma’s rural Nkandla homestead.
On the campaign trail in Sasolburg, ANC national executive committee member, Public Service and Administration Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, said: “I hope she has completed her investigation because for an investigation of this magnitude, I don’t think she has given herself enough time.”
Meanwhile, City Press cited unnamed sources saying the ANC and the SACP would downplay the findings and instead focus on discrediting the report.
Commenting on remarks by outgoing National Planning Minister Trevor Manuel that attacks on institutions like the public protector would damage our constitutional democracy, Sapa quotes ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe saying: “We do not attack the public protector, but criticise her when we feel we should,” and describing Manuel as a “free agent” who refused to participate in ANC NEC activities.
The DA and other opposition parties have for over two years cited the taxpayer-funded Nkandla upgrades as an example of the Zuma administration’s lack of control over spending.
Questions over costs and approvals were repeatedly asked of Zuma in the National Assembly, all of which he responded to by saying he did not know.
With just over seven weeks to go before the May 7 elections, the political stakes are high: not only for the ANC, which has been under pressure amid the ongoing public outcry over Nkandla, which cost up to five times more than such security measures at the late Nelson Mandela’s rural Qunu homestead, but also for Madonsela. And in these tense pre-election times, opposition party support for Madonsela may well turn out to be a double-edged sword.
In December the public protector was accused of playing political games, while the security ministers hauled her to court to gain an extension to the deadline she had given them to respond to the draft report.
The stakes had been raised when the Mail & Guardian published a draft report in December which reportedly found Zuma had to shoulder at least some of the responsibility for the upgrades.
In turn, the security ministers de-classified a public task-team report, which had been “top secret” for a year.
That report blamed contractors and public servants, most of whom by this time had either left or were fired, for the cost overruns and procurement irregularities, and they maintained the president knew nothing of the costs nor that state money was spent on his private residences.
At the time Mantashe, without directly commenting on what he called “leaked snippets” in the M&G, said if the final report was released in March just before the elections, it was no longer a technical investigation: “You are making it a factor in the elections.”
This week Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi confirmed in a parliamentary reply that the auditor-general and the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) were also conducting probes into the spending at Nkandla.
This matter first arose in the security ministers’ court papers filed in December, when it emerged that there had been a push to have Madonsela’s probe to stand aside for investigations by the auditor-general and SIU.
Whether these other investigations would be used to stave off any action on the public protector’s findings remains to be seen.
The president, or the department of Public Works which oversaw the Nkandla upgrades, may decide to take the public protector to court with a view to having her findings set aside.