PRESIDENT Jacob Zuma says he has been “convicted, painted black [and] called the first-class corrupt man on facts that are not tested” over the spending of more than R200 million in public funds on his private Nkandla home.
“I have never asked government to build a home for me, and it has not done so,” he said in Parliament yesterday. “My residence in Nkandla has been paid for by the Zuma family. All the buildings and every room we use in that residence, was built by ourselves as family and not by government.”
But Zuma’s explanation did not convince DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko, who challenged the president’s insistence that he could answer questions only about his private home and not the government’s spending on security features.
“The fact that the government is spending R250m to upgrade, not a presidential house, but the president’s own house, built by himself, his own private residence, not a state residence, this is what is at issue today,” Mazibuko said.
She cited reports listing improvements as including 31 new buildings, six of which cost R8m each; R2.3m for lifts “to carry the honourable president to his underground bunker”; air conditioning systems at a cost of R1.5m; as well as a visitors’ centre, gymnasium and guest rooms.
“Are these security enhancements?” she asked. “The government does not have the responsibility to upgrade, at a cost of R250m, the president’s private home.”
Zuma said that after he became president he had been approached by the government to “allow” enhanced security measures in terms of the National Key Points Act – including houses built beyond the perimeter of the property for security staff, fencing, bulletproof windows and a bunker.
He did not know the amount spent on the security upgrade, but doubted it could be as much as what’s been reported.
Zuma said he supported the investigations under way, including an audit of all the government’s classified prestige projects, a task team appointed by Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi and Public Protector Thuli Madonsela.
“I want everybody to be clear because you have made this country to believe that the government has built a home for me, it is not true,” Zuma said.
He said he was still paying off a bond on extensions to his home begun with his extended family when he became president.
When the government told him of the need for additional security, he had referred the Department of Public Works to the contractors who were busy on the property already. Zuma said Mazibuko was basing her question on inaccurate information. “She is giving a huge number of houses I have nothing to do with.” He had paid for five additional houses.
Asked by DA MP Anchen Dreyer if he would commit to giving the correct figures spent by the Department of Public Works as well as a breakdown of the items on which it had been spent, Zuma said: “If the honourable member thinks that I must now do the book counting of a department and count figures, I think it’s demanding too much.
“I don’t know the figures, that’s not my job.”
Mazibuko said afterwards that instead of using “an opportunity to come clean”, Zuma had “decided to play the victim” and tried to make the opposition “feel guilty for holding him accountable”.
“He failed to clarify how spending R250m of public money on security is justified. He further pointed the finger at other government departments for the security expenses, claiming that they insisted on them. If the president can be so easily instructed by his own cabinet ministers, then he clearly is unfit to lead the country,” she said.
He should provide Parliament “without any delay” all the details and documents about the expenses of the project. “But he won’t, because he knows that he cannot defend spending R250m of South Africans’ money on himself,” she said. – Additional reporting by Craig Dodds