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Cape Town - “No letter was ever received by me. That’s a very clear, straight answer. No letter was ever received.”
These were the words of President Jacob Zuma in Parliament on March 20 last year, but he declined to give Public Protector Thuli Madonsela a “clear, straight answer” when she asked him about the very same letter in the course of her investigation into the R215- million “security upgrades” at Nkandla.
While she has given Zuma the benefit of the doubt on the question of whether he misled Parliament when he told it in November 2012 the State had not built his Nkandla home, or benefited his family, she received no response to a written question about the letter, an update on progress with the work at Nkandla, from then Public Works Minister Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde.
Madonsela appears to accept in her report on the investigation, released this week, that Zuma received the letter.
She cites in support of this view minutes of a subsequent meeting of the Nkandla project team recording that Zuma had been informed of progress, and was satisfied.
The letter, sent to Zuma on November 5, 2010, says of the attached progress report: “Taking the above report into consideration I am pleased to report that all the work for which my department is responsible will be completed by the deadline of the 30 November 2010 as per the commitment given to you by my predecessor (Geoff Doidge). I have also taken the liberty of attaching hereto a progress report as updated on the 5 November 2010 detailing the various activities, the percentage completed per activity and comments for your information.”
Madonsela says in her report that the Public Works deputy director-general chaired a progress meeting four days later and reported, according to the minutes and his evidence during the investigation, that Zuma had been informed of the progress made with the project, and was satisfied.
The attached progress report was signed by then Public Works director-general Siviwe Dongwana and Mahlangu-Nkabinde’s deputy, Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu.
Elaborating on his response to a question in the National Assembly on March 20 last year, Zuma added: “It’s a very funny letter that has signatures, as I saw it from a distance, of so many people.”
This is not the only element of the paper trail in the Nkandla project that seems never to have crossed Zuma’s desk.
On the instructions of Bogopane-Zulu, private consultants prepared a document dividing the costs of the Nkandla project between the State and items, or portions of items, for Zuma’s account as “the principal”.
They determined Zuma would be responsible for R10.6m of the total.
But Bogopane-Zulu never saw the document as she was abruptly removed from responsibility for the “Prestige Portfolio”, including Nkandla, before it was completed.
Mahlangu-Nkabinde denied ever seeing it, and it subsequently “disappeared without trace”, according to Madonsela’s report.
“I must say that the disappearance of the document amid a situation where virtually all the members of the executive involved appeared conversant with its contents is a source of grave concern. It is clear that at the level of the Project Team the document was produced and delivered but at a political level, it seems to have been managed in a manner that removed it from the normal administrative decision-making process or track,” Madonsela wrote.
Zuma did confirm to the public protector that he had asked for a larger cattle kraal, and said he was comfortable paying for this.
He also confirmed he objected to the original bulletproof windows, showing he was aware of, and intervened in, details of the project – something he has consistently said was not his job as president when asked about his knowledge of the project.
Zuma was also never, according to Madonsela, made familiar with the contents of the declaration by Minister of Police Nathi Mthethwa under which Nkandla became an official National Key Point, and Zuma was advised he would have to bear the costs of security measures necessitated by the declaration.
Zuma and his lawyers have argued that the National Key Points Act was not the correct legislative instrument authorising the Nkandla project.
But the alternative, a cabinet policy of 2003, would have required either Zuma or the presidency to request the security measures, which neither of them did, and, after it had been costed, for Zuma to be informed of the costs and give his consent.
Again, this was not done.