Senior government ministers defended President Jacob Zuma on Wednesday following the release of the damning Nkandla report.
At a briefing in Pretoria, Minister of Justice Jeff Radebe said that, despite Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s findings that Zuma benefited improperly from the security-upgrade project, the government maintained that all renovations at his private home were related to security and no public funds were used.
This took place as the DA moved to impeach Zuma, while other opposition parties called for criminal charges to be laid against government officials implicated in the report.
“The private house of the president was built by the president and his family. The retaining wall, cattle kraal and culvert, fire pool and water reservoir, accommodation for security personnel and visitors’ waiting area are all essential security features which ensure physical security and effective operation of security equipment,” Radebe said.
He said Zuma started building the home in 2008 and was paying a bond. Zuma became president in 2009.
Radebe said the government was already taking action to recover money that may have been wasted on the project.
The cost for the renovations have ballooned to R215 million from the initial budget of R27m.
“The Department of Public Works has finalised the cost of apportionment of the project for recovery of funds from the SAPS and the Department of Defence.”
The Department of Defence had set up a board of inquiry to investigate any irregularities that may have been committed during this project, Radebe said.
He said Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi, Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa and Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, who have been implicated in Madonsela’s report, would not be fired or resign until Zuma pronounced on the issue.
According to Madonsela’s report, Zuma unduly benefited from the Nkandla upgrades.
“President Zuma improperly benefited from the measures implemented in the name of security, which include non-security comforts such as the visitors’ centre, the swimming pool, amphitheatre, cattle kraal with culvert and chicken run. The private medical clinic at the family’s doorstep will also benefit the family forever.
“The acts and omissions that allowed this to happen constitute unlawful, improper conduct and maladministration.”
Rejecting what seems to be Zuma’s “I saw nothing or heard nothing” approach to the Nkandla saga, Madonsela said he should have been circumspect. She recommended he repay the costs incurred on the non-security upgrades.
Madonsela also found there was no lease agreement with the Ingonyama Trust over land used to build a helipad, among other things - but Radebe denied this.
Madonsela also complained that her staff were intimidated by ministers’ interference during the investigation. But Basic Education Angie Motshekga said Madonsela should develop a thick skin.
“There should be no holy cows. We have always said she is free to conduct her investigation, but people also have the right to defend themselves,” Motshekga said.
Radebe said the government would set up a team to read the report and formulate a full response.
Zuma had made a proclamation that the Special Investigating Unit probe the Nkandla upgrades, he said, adding the report was expected soon.
“This report will form a basis for disciplinary action and/or criminal charges against implicated individuals.
“The report will be forwarded to the National Prosecuting Authority for prosecutorial consideration.”
Apart from condemning Zuma, opposition parties also tried to take advantage of the Madonsela report ahead of the elections.
DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko said she would ask Parliament Speaker Max Sisulu to recall the National Assembly and initiate the process of impeaching Zuma.
“Today is a historic day in our fight against the corruption, cronyism and nepotism which have run rampant during President Jacob Zuma’s term of office,” she said.
DA Gauteng premier candidate Mmusi Maimane said he would travel to Nkandla on Thursday to open a case against Zuma.