The cost of the Nkandla Project seems to run well over the R246 million that stands in the Public Protector’s report, “Secure in Comfort”.
This figure excludes lifetime costs, as the March 2014 report has found.
But the lifetime costs have not only been monetary. The human scalps claimed will forever be reflected in the CVs of the casualties, including the two former Ministers of Public Works, Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde and Geoff Doidge.
The costs also include the reputational damage suffered by most “stakeholders”, especially those who were fighting in President Jacob Zuma’s corner, insisting he was not liable to pay a cent as he did not personally order the refurbishment to his private rural KwaZulu-Natal home.
Zuma, who on Tuesday had a change of heart and indicated his willingness to pay back a percentage of the costs to be determined by the Minister of Finance, among other authorities, is on record as having said he “did not take a penny” of the money expended on his homestead and was not liable to pay anything back.
Though he gave the impression that he was not aware of work done on the project and its scale, the president was found to have complained about the slow progress of the project, a fact registered in the public protector’s report.
Among the meetings the public protector had was one with Zuma on August 11, 2013.
But chief among those with egg on their face is Police Minister Nathi Nhleko, who took over from his namesake Nathi Mthethwa at the height of the scandal.
Nhleko issued a report on May 28, 2015 that exonerated the president and, despite the Nkandla homeowner’s about-turn, Nhleko insisted this week that he stood by his report.
In his report, Nhleko stated that such features as the firepool, culvert and the amphitheatre, among others, were security features that President Zuma did not have to pay for.
According to investigations by Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, “the total actual expenditure had increased from the initial R27 million to R215 million despite the fact that the project remains incomplete, with the current conservative estimation of the final cost being R246 million, excluding lifetime maintenance cost”.
Nhleko’s spokesman Musa Zondi says: “The cost associated with Nkandla was R26 000 for video production.”
He adds: “But the work of the group for its duration was managed from Civilian Secretariat.”
But whatever the Police Ministry used over Nkandla, it is a fraction of the total expenditure - not a small sum, that balloons the R246 million.
When Parliament’s ad hoc committee on Nkandla toured the homestead, Nhleko reportedly griped that the president’s security had now been compromised and for that reason “more money may have to be spent on Nkandla to install additional security”.
For example, “Secure in Comfort” states: “I have noted with concern the submission by Deputy Minister (Hendrietta) Bogopane-Zulu during her interview that she had advised that the Minister of Human Settlements be approached with a request to build RDP houses for the affected households.
“This would have cost between R100 000 and R120 000 a house, which would have been less than R2 million for the four households instead of the R8 million that has since been paid for the 15 rondavels that have been built for them.
“This cheaper option was not explored by the Department of Public Works.
“Regarding maintaining the rondavel style of the original homes, RDP houses can be adapted to any low-cost architectural design.”
The “cost of Nkandla” has not been confined strictly to the building on the site. Costs were incurred visiting the physical location.
An inspection in loco on August 12, 2013 by the public protector, “aimed at verifying and assessing the works implemented by the Department of Public Works at the president’s private residence” is but one of such visits since undertaken by various interest and lobby groups.
Among the high-profile visits to Nkandla was one by the ad hoc committee on Nkandla headed by Cedric Frolick that was shunned by both the EFF and the Congress of the People (Cope) as a ploy to spend more money at the president’s house.
“A waste of taxpayers’ money,” the EFF termed it.
During the same visit, a DA delegation had planned to conduct oversight of the money - R135 million - splashed by the Ministry of Defence on building houses for soldiers stationed at Nkandla.
Last July, a selected group of journalists was also taken on a tour of Nkandla. Certain sections of the vast homestead, however, were kept out of their reach. Those concerned with the abuse of taxpayers’ money in Nkandla have not seen the end of it.
It will continue to finance the protracted legal battles - current and pending.
The Nkandla matter is likely to tie up the public protector’s office in lengthy, and costly, legal proceedings.
In fact, it is not possible to estimate the costs at this stage but they are likely to run into (even bigger) millions.
For example, the public protector’s cost in the urgent application brought, and later withdrawn, by the security cluster ministers during the Nkandla investigation had been in the region of R600 000, though the ministers were ordered to pay for this. It will be substantially more in a review application that runs its full course.
Funds allocated in their budget for core operations will therefore have to be used, which will impact negatively on the service that they will be able to render.
On top of this, Madonsela and members of the investigation teams involved in each matter would have to participate in time-consuming preparation of court papers and consulting attorneys.
For those with an idea of how to work the system, Nkandla remains a cash cow that keeps depleting the public purse.