As the dust from Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s 447-page report into the expenditure on President Jacob Zuma’s private homestead in Nkandla refuses to settle and calls for his impeachment grow louder, Lee Rondganger compares some of the government’s spin before the report’s release, to what it actually found.
Durban - Renovations to President Zuma’s private residence in Nkandla were first highlighted by newspapers in 2009. It was estimated at the time that renovations to his estate would cost R65 million.
Then that estimate swelled to R206m. Now it is R246m.
Along the way, a few members of Zuma’s cabinet, and the national police commissioner, rallied around the embattled president and sought to justify the expenditure. They still differ with the public protector’s finding that some of the improvements had no security use at all.
* In his address to Parliament in November 2012 after the Nkandla scandal broke, President Jacob Zuma said his family had built its own houses and no public funds were used on any homes on the homestead.
He said he and his family paid for the construction, and that he was still paying off a mortgage bond.
Zuma said the only money spent by the government on his home was for security features, including fencing, bullet-proof windows and a bunker.
“I was advised that the security upgrades were... necessary in terms of the National Key Points Act,” he said.
“This was not true,” Madonsela found.
However, she said: “I have accepted the evidence that he addressed Parliament in good faith and was not thinking about the Visitors’ Centre but his family dwellings when he made the statement.”
* Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi, whose department was responsible for the Nkandla upgrade, met the media on Sunday January 26, 2013, with the findings of an internal task team that investigated the expenditure in Nkandla.
Nxesi – with Justice Minister Jeff Radebe and State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele – insisted Zuma had not been aware of the cost or details of the work.
“Was the president involved?” asked Radebe.
“The answer is no. No money of the state was used for the upgrade of the private residence of the president. There were irregularities, in this instance the manner in which officials in the Department of Public Works procured these services, and all those implicated officials, the law enforcement agencies are going to take their course to find those people involved in order to be accountable for that,” Radebe said.
“Regarding President Zuma’s conduct in respect of the use of state funds in the Nkandla project, on the only evidence currently available, the President failed to apply his mind to the contents of the declaration of his private residence as a National Key Point and specifically failed to implement security measures at own cost as directed by it. It is my considered view that the President, as the head of South Africa Incorporated, was wearing two hats, that of the ultimate guardian of the resources of the people of South Africa and that of being a beneficiary of public privileges of some of the guardians of public power and state resources, but failed to discharge his responsibilities in terms of the latter. I believe the President should have ideally asked questions regarding the scale, cost and affordability of the Nkandla project”.
* Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa, at the same press conference, said the reason for the security upgrade was that of the security threat assessment for any project for any public officer, whether it was a minister or president.
“At the point of the assessment, the conclusion then becomes that these are the kind of things you need and that has to be achieved. Now, whether that would be justifiable or not, I would say, yes. In this case, threat assessment was such that all the things which have been pointed out here were said to be needed in that process.”
“The implementation of the security measures failed to comply with the parameters set out in the laws in question for the proper exercise of such authority. The key violation in this regard is the failure to follow the processes outlined in the cabinet policy and the deviation from the 16 security measures that were recommended in the Second Security Evaluation by the SAPS. This constitutes improper conduct and maladministration. With the National Key Points Act having been inexplicably dragged in halfway through the implementation of the Nkandla Project, its provisions had to be complied with. This did not happen. Neither was there compliance with the contents of the declaration of the Nkandla residence as a National Key Point, as signed by the Minister of Police on 08 April, 2010.”
* ANC spokesman, Jackson Mthembu, responding to the government cluster press conference said the report “vindicates the president and our belief in the (his) innocence on what he consistently said were lies and that he personally built his residence and that the government only built security features that are prescribed”.
That the Department of Public Works had implemented a number of the measures, including buildings and other items constructed and installed by the department that went beyond what was reasonably required for his security.
“Measures that should never have been implemented as they are neither provided for in the regulatory instruments… include the construction inside the President’s residence of a Visitors’ Centre; an expensive cattle kraal with a culvert and chicken run; a swimming pool; an amphitheatre; marquee area; some of the extensive paving; and the relocation of neighbours who used to form part of the original homestead, at an enormous cost to the state.
“Measures that are not expressly provided for, but could have been discretionally implemented in a manner that benefits the broader community, include helipads and a private clinic.
“The failure to explore more economic and community-inclusive options to accommodate the discretional security-related needs constitutes improper conduct and maladministration”.
* On December 19, 2013, Ministers of the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security Cluster (JCPS) and Minister of Public Works, Thulas Nxesi, released the Task Team Report – that was originally classified – on matters relating to the security upgrade at President Jacob Zuma’s private residence in Nkandla.
National police commissioner, Riah Phiyega, explained that in rural areas people had “no fire extinguishers or fire brigades”.
She said the “best we know is to take a bucket, dip it in water and throw it on the fire”.
It was, she said, not a swimming pool but a fire pool.
Lieutenant-General Vijay Ramlakan, the retired surgeon-general who represented the defence force, confirmed that there was “what is referred to in the media” as a swimming pool, but that the department of defence’s original request had been “translated by public works engineers into what is there”.
The chicken run was created to replace a number of “building block” structures which were obstructions and “potential hiding areas for intruders”, said Nxesi.
“The relocation of these loose structures to a dedicated area improved the security on site,” said Nxesi.
The cattle kraal and culvert were important for security the task team found.
False alarms as well as damage to the fence and sensitive electronic equipment could be caused by the cattle.
“The cattle and people were using the same entrance due to the location of the kraal posing a potential risk in the high security area,” said Nxesi.
Regarding the air conditioning, Ramlakan said: “Anybody who has had to be (in a room) with bulletproof windows will know those windows cannot be easily opened”.
It was for this reason, he said, that air conditioning was necessary.
There was no fire pool but a “swimming pool”, she said adding that President Jacob Zuma improperly benefited from measures implemented in the name of security, but which included “non-security comforts” like the Visitors’ Centre, swimming pool, cattle kraal and culvert, chicken run and amphitheatre as well as the brick-and-mortar clinic on the homestead’s doorstep.
The Zuma family benefited from the “substantial value being unduly added” to the president’s private property, she said.
Costs of the non-security installation (those not identified by the two state security assessment) should be born by Zuma and his family, including for the Visitors’ Centre, swimming pool, cattle kraal and culvert, chicken run and amphitheatre.
In August last year, Zuma indicated he would pay for the cattle kraal as he had asked for a larger one to be built.