Exclusive interview with Jacob Zuma before the state of the nation address, he was interviewed by Karima Brown, Group Executive Editor of Independent Newspapers Ltd at The Presidential house in Pretoria. Picture: Antoine de Ras, 07/02/2014

Johannesburg - An unhappy President Jacob Zuma says his critics were “unfair” to depict him as “corrupt” regarding spending on security upgrades at his private Nkandla homestead.

In an exclusive interview with The Sunday Independent, Zuma said: “People have short memories. A few years ago, when I built my homestead, they said I’d used French money. They have forgotten about it. The very place they (are) now showing where they say I have supposedly used government money. It’s the same place. This is unfair.”

For Zuma, the objective of this depiction of him is clear.

“They want to show I am corrupt – that Zuma has eaten R250 million, whoever is making that allegation. They have never worried themselves to check… they leak unverified reports, knowing very well this is the very homestead that was once the subject of discussion. Now they are repeating it. It is unfair.”

The state’s security upgrades at Zuma’s private home have dominated the news, with opposition parties and the ANC weighing in on the matter. Both have called on the relevant government departments to make open their entire processes and probes, not only the findings.

The DA has approached the courts to force the Department of Public Works to open up its findings on the security upgrades. Earlier the ANC leadership also appealed for transparency and speed on the matter.

The ANC has singled out the public protector for criticism on leaks from her office on the initial work she undertook on the Nkandla saga.

Former national police commissioner Bheki Cele is the latest former state functionary who still needs to answer on specifics regarding the upgrades to security and the Nkandla residence.

Zuma said the media’s fondness for showing pictures of his homestead failed to make clear the distinction between what was government property and what was his private home.

“I feel very unhappy about this. Firstly, the manner in which the Nkandla homestead is projected is wrong. For an example, the pictures shown there give the impression it is all being built by Zuma with state money. It is not true. This makes me very uncomfortable.

“Over 90 percent of what is being shown there is the house, the rondavel, I built when there was no security issue. I am still paying a bond. But it is all clubbed together. This is wrong,” Zuma said.

When asked if any of the ministers who formed part of the task team which probed the matter asked him or any of his family members about the upgrades in the course of their investigation, Zuma said: “All that the family was doing was extending our family home. We were working.

“The government came very late to introduce security features at the level that they were being introduced before Zuma became the president. It was their confidential things. They never discussed with anyone of the family. So even if you wanted to talk, the family didn’t know. The very government… they are the ones who know better.”

When pressed if any minister had asked him personally or directly on the issues relating to their probe, Zuma said: “I don’t deal with it. But where it was necessary for them to come and ask questions, I was always there.”

The opposition is hoping to use the controversy around Nkandla to their advantage as the general election draws closer. Zuma announced on Friday that South Africans will go to the polls on May 7.

They are hoping to cash in on what they believe are negative connotations surrounding Zuma on the alleged wrongdoing involving his private home.

Zuma said it was unfortunate there had not been a single process, but said he was unable to speak on the public protector’s probe because it was still ongoing.

He said he was happy with the inter-ministerial committee task team’s handling of the matter, and said its recommendations on misconduct and wrongdoing were being implemented.

* Public Protector Thuli Madonsela says her Nkandla report will be out by March 1.

Sunday Independent