Cape Town. 290314. The ANC National Executive Committee held their meeting at the President Hotel in Sea Point. Picture Leon Lestrade. Story Babalo Ndenze

Johannesburg - The ANC’s top brass have all but absolved President Jacob Zuma of any wrongdoing in the R246 million upgrade to his Nkandla residence, but have called for the heads of the responsible line ministers in his cabinet.

Former defence and military veterans minister Lindiwe Sisulu has also been dragged into the Nkandla fiasco to account, despite not being implicated in Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s report.

Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa is also in the firing line.

The NEC, which met in Cape Town this weekend, discussed the 30-page report on Nkandla.

According to one member, party leaders wanted Sisulu to shoulder some of the responsibility on the exorbitant spending as the defence minister at the time.

The ANC leadership feels Zuma cannot be held responsible for line function ministerial decisions taken on the upgrades.

Zuma faced the NEC for the first time since Madonsela found that he unduly benefited from the security upgrades at his private home in Nkandla.

ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu said yesterday the Nkandla matter was discussed at the NEC meeting.

ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe told the media two weeks ago that action must be taken against those guilty of violations – including Zuma.

“All those found in violation, that includes the president. When we say all, we mean all, we don’t exclude anyone. But let me emphasise the fact that (we mean) people found in violation by the report, not in discussion in the public,” said Mantashe at the time.

Sisulu’s spokesman Ndivhuwo Mabaya confirmed written “communications” did happen between the minister and Madonsela during her Nkandla investigation.

“There were letters that we received from the public protector. We replied to those letters, that’s the only communication we had.

“The letters between minister and public protector were between the two of them. We can’t divulge what the letters were about. It was Nkandla-related.

“The public protector never spoke to the minister. Those other issues you are raising I’m not aware of them, I’m not a member of the NEC,” said Mabaya.

Madonsela told The Sunday Independent yesterday that if there was one person who was innocent of any wrongdoing, it was Sisulu.

“There has been communication with minister Sisulu and my findings show that the minister of defence (at the time) was never involved. There has been no evidence that implicates her.

“None of the officials ever mentioned her name before the provisional report and now,” said Madonsela.

This follows earlier comments by Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi, who blamed officials in his department for the debacle.

Nxesi told an audience attending a bursary award ceremony that Zuma “happened to be caught in the cross-fire”.

He blamed the escalating costs of the upgrades on weaknesses in his department.

This follows the damning findings by Madonsela, which revealed that Zuma and his family had benefited from the upgrades through the inclusion of non-security features such as the amphitheatre, a swimming pool and a chicken run.

Nxesi was the one who commissioned an inter-ministerial task team to investigate the matter, but later classified the report when it was completed, citing security reasons.

He gave examples of several projects in the department on which costs had escalated to show that Nkandla expenditure was the tip of the iceberg.

“The Nkandla security upgrade is just one more example of the systemic crisis that was Public Works. It is merely the tip of the iceberg,” said Nxesi.

He cited the renovation of the central government offices in Pretoria, which started at R59m in 2006 but ended costing more than R330m on completion.

The construction of a prison in the Northern Cape started at R100m and ended on R1 billion, while 10 ministerial houses in Cape Town were renovated for a total of R100m.

According to Nxesi, this was a result of collusion between department officials and the private sector.

“Corruption knows no colour. There is corruption in the public sector as well as the private sector. That is what happened in Nkandla. The president happened to be caught in the cross-fire,” said Nxesi.

An NEC member said this week that many in the ANC leadership were critical of how Nxesi had handled the release of the inter-ministerial task team report, saying he attracted a lot of criticism to the ANC.

“How do you commission an investigation, and when the report comes out you classify it? It raises more questions and the credibility of the report you release later comes into question.

“Why should people not suspect that the report that was eventually released was doctored?

Mthembu said: “On the agenda items on NEC, we had an overview from the president yesterday. And that overview has been discussed.

“We also had a discussion on the NWC report to the NEC. We have also had a discussion on elections and the annual report to the NEC on the state of the organisation. On the agenda also (was) the report of the public protector on security upgrades at Nkandla,” was all Mthembu was willing to tell the media at the meeting venue yesterday afternoon.

The public protector’s report found that Zuma should repay at least some of the costs, such as for the cattle kraal and culvert, chicken run, swimming pool and visitors’ centre, which had not been included in the official security assessments of 2009 and 2010. - The Sunday Independent