Cape Town - Deputy Public Works Minister Jeremy Cronin says Parliament should consider changing the apartheid-era National Key Points Act, as it is contrary to the values of a democratic South Africa.
Cronin questioned the appropriateness and constitutionality of the legislation - cited by his immediate boss, Thulas Nxesi, when he refused to make public the full report on a departmental investigation into the R206 million security upgrade at President Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla residence.
Cronin said though the act still was in force and the government relied on it for certain matters, particularly the security of office-bearers, including presidents and premiers, it was “awkward” legislation and Parliament needed to “evaluate if that’s what we want in the new South Africa”.
The act applies to “any place or area” so important that its loss, damage, disruption or immobilisation may “prejudice the Republic”, or whenever a minister of police or defence considers it “necessary or expedient for the safety of the Republic or in the public interest”.
It also prohibits anyone from providing “any information relating to the security measures applicable at or in respect of any National Key Point or in respect of any incident that occurred there”.
First used by the apartheid government to draw a veil of secrecy around its security and military operations, the act has been invoked by Nxesi and others to withholddetails of the controversial Nkandla security “enhancements”, leading to accusations of a cover-up.
Cronin had included his views on the act in the written version of his speech during the debate this week on Zuma’s State of the Nation address, but omitted them when he delivered it in the National Assembly, prompting the DA to call for him to clarify his position.
The party’s spokeswoman on public works, Anchen Dreyer, said despite Cronin’s prepared speech having mentioned the “probably excessive and undoubtedly extremely costly security operational requirements” at Nkandla, he had failed to express his views during the debate.
His draft speech had said, about the National Key Points Act, that “Parliament does need to look at this anachronistic and problematic piece of legislation”.
But Cronin defended himself on Thursday, saying he had not had time to read his entire prepared speech. The issue of the Nkandla spending had also been substantially addressed by Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula.
The act came under scrutiny last year after news reports revealed that hundreds of millions of rand had been spent on upgrading Zuma’s private Nkandla residence. Senior government officials prevented further details from emerging, saying Zuma’s residence had been declared a National Key Point.
Following an investigation by his department, Nxesi said R206m had been spent on the upgrades.
A total of R71m was for security upgrades and R135m went towards the “operational needs” of other departments.
Irregularities in procurement processes had been referred to the law enforcement agencies.
In his prepared speech, Cronin referred to the act as “dastardly apartheid legislation”. He later told Independent Newspapers that while he felt the legislation should be changed and replaced by “more democratic legislation”, there should still be guidelines concerning sensitive information about security of presidents and other government officials.
DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko slammed Zuma on Thursday for failing to address the Nkandla issue in his response to the debate.