A VISIBLY irritated and emotional President Jacob Zuma has finally broken his silence on allegations that he splashed R240 million of taxpayer’s money on his private residence in Nkandla.
Replying to questions on the Nkandla upgrade in the National Assembly yesterday, Zuma said his “ignorant critics” had convicted him on the basis of unfounded allegations – without even bothering to double-check the facts.
Stony-faced and often pointing his fingers, Zuma said his family had been made “a laughing stock” by people who did not even know whether they were provincial or national leaders – a veiled attack on DA leader Helen Zille who led a party delegation to “inspect” Nkandla two weeks ago.
“I have been convicted, painted black, called a first-class corrupt man, on facts that are not tested. I take exception. I want you to ask your questions properly because you must not discuss issues you do not know,” Zuma said.
The ANC leader, who is bidding for a second term at the party’s national elective conference next month, maintained that the images “paraded” on television were of his private home.
He said the home had been built by himself and his family. Zuma said the pictures were not of the houses built by the Public Works Department to house security personnel.
Those homes, he said, were not on his property.
He was still paying off a bond on the work done privately, he said.
In a lengthy, sometimes emotional departure from his prepared response, Zuma said he wanted to “help” MPs to understand the facts “as they are”.
He had, with his family, decided to extend their home when it finally became possible to do so, following a period of violence in KwaZulu-Natal.
During that violence his home was burnt down twice.
“Once the violence was over, I took the decision to extend my home.
“I built more rondavels, modern ones, and I fenced my home. I engaged the bank and I’m still paying a bond on the first phase of my home.”
This work had still been under way when he became president. At that time he was approached by officials who said they needed to upgrade security.
“What then happened, because the government insisted from a security point of view that it needed to participate, I then made the government meet with the contractors, who were already on-site,” he said.
The Public Works Department’s only involvement in his private residence had been incorporating the security measures into the family’s plan to extend the home, Zuma said.
He said “a wrong impression is being given to the country – that the government has built a home for me.
“It is not true. People are speaking without knowing. And therefore saying I spent so much of the government’s money is not true. I’ve never done this. It is unfair. And I don’t want to use harsher words. Because you believe that people like me can’t build a home,” he said.
He could not account for the spending outside the perimeter of his residence, but said “all of that is being piled on me as having used R200m. And therefore I am very corrupt, I take exception”.
Referring to a recent DA visit to the area to inspect his home, which was thwarted by police and ANC supporters, Zuma said: “You then have leaders of political parties, who don’t know whether they are provincial or national, taking trips to come and photograph my house and making a laughing stock of my family.
“I take exception to this. You must deal with the facts that you are certain of.”
But Zuma’s insistence that he could only answer questions about his private home and not the government’s spending on security features was challenged by DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko.
“The fact that the Honourable President’s house is his own home, built by himself, is exactly what is at issue today.
“The fact that the government is spending R250 million 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 said he was attempting to hide behind the National Key Points Act, just as Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi did in refusing to disclose how much had been spent by his department.
“If you want to talk about security enhancements, let’s talk about security enhancements: 31 new buildings, six of which cost R8m each, is that a security enhancement? Another R2,3m for lifts carrying the honourable president to his underground bunker, is that a security enhancement? Is air conditioning systems for every one of the houses at R1,5m, is that a security enhancement? Is a visitors’ centre, a gymnasium and guest rooms – are these security enhancements?
“The fact that this is the Honourable President’s private home is something that we take exception to. The government does not have a responsibility to upgrade at cost of R250m the president’s private home,” Mazibuko said.