Johannesburg - Outrage met Police Minister Nkosinathi Nhleko’s Nkandla report justifying a cattle kraal, chicken run, amphitheatre, swimming pool and visitors’ centre as crucial security measures at President Jacob Zuma’s rural homestead – and therefore not for his account.
Describing this as a “whitewash”, an “insult” and a “low point”, opposition parties on Thursday slammed the 50-page document.
But as civil society organisations voiced their objections, political commentators said it was a miscalculation to think the Nkandla debacle would be closed now, even as the report showed up weaknesses in the country’s political system.
Already having cost the taxpayer R215 million, it emerged that more security features would have to be installed at Nkandla – motion detectors and cameras had not been put in place, pending the release of this report.
On Thursday, neither Nhleko nor Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi could put a figure to the still outstanding costs. “We don’t know. We will just rely on the police what needs to be done,” Nxesi said.
The report was limited in scope, Nhleko acknowledged, as it dealt only with the features described in the public protector’s “Secure in Comfort” report in March last year.
The swimming pool, cattle kraal, chicken run, amphitheatre and visitors’ centre were deemed non-security features “unduly” benefiting the president and his family, and at least some of their costs should be repaid, according to the public protector.
By arguing all the features served “important” and “clear” security purposes, Nhleko’s report determines no repayment for non-security upgrades was due, because there were no non-security upgrades.
Centre for the Study of Democracy director Steven Friedman said Nhleko’s report continued the “blank stonewalling” pattern adopted since the start of the Nkandla debacle several years ago.
“They simply decided to tough it out and close ranks”.
But that strategy made little sense as pressure was unlikely to go away. “It might have made more sense to have a report (saying) it’s quite clear the president was an entirely innocent victim (but the public protector said he should repay something) and, as a splendid gesture, he’ll repay something.”
Friedman added the report showed that what went on in Parliament was “all about (political parties) talking to the electorate”.
Political analyst Aubrey Matshiqi said the report highlighted the weak state of South Africa’s political system, with the dominance of one political party.
“We already have a problem of mistrust in the relationship between many citizens and the government, between many citizens and the president. What this report does is to either maintain the current levels of mistrust, or worsen them,” he said.
“The citizens and political parties are ineffective as agents of restraint (on the ruling party).”
The question was whether either cared what citizens thought, said Matshiqi: “I don’t think so. This performance suggests they don’t.”
Opposition parties roundly rejected the report.
DA leader Mmusi Maimane said the minister’s “whitewash report” showed “President Zuma’s henchmen will do anything to shield the president from his responsibility”. He likened the decision that the president did not have to pay a cent as “grand theft of the highest level”.
The EFF, which brought the “pay back the money” stance to Parliament, rejected the report as a “failed propaganda spin” by a minister who the president appointed.
“The EFF does not buy all the stories and cultural idioms used to cover up the truth. We warned long ago that the delay in publishing the cost of non-security features was because cabinet was cooking the report to try to protect the corruption of Jacob Zuma,” party spokesman Mbuyiseni Ndlozi said.
United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa said the report took the country back to square one – pay back the money.
“It (the report) has not done them (the ANC and the government) any good,” Holomisa said. “Who will have the guts to say to the king, ‘As the induna, you have to pay?’… The sheer arrogance of power!”
IFP chief whip Narend Singh said the report “insulted the intelligence of all South Africans”, adding that it was not a surprise from a minister who serves at the pleasure of the president. “This is tantamount to Colonel Sanders asking his chickens to vote on whether or not they would like to be slaughtered.”
Freedom Front Plus leader Dr Pieter Mulder described the report as “unbelievable”, and said the president should have been asked to repay something. “It’s a whitewash. I think they will get away with it… in the short term. But Nkandla is his legacy. We will remember Zuma for Nkandla,” he added. “The most stupid man will see through this.”
The Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution said it was inevitable that the Nkandla saga would end up in court. “Neither (Nhleko) nor the president was asked to determine whether the president should pay, but rather the quantum to be paid.
“It is now clear that neither the executive nor Parliament has demonstrated the necessary capability and will to interact appropriately with the public protector’s report on Nkandla, and to hold the president to account,” it added.
The FW de Klerk Foundation said the report was no surprise.
“The underlying and undeniable reality is that it is absolutely unacceptable in a democracy for the state to spend such a vast amount of public money on the private home of a political office-bearer – under any circumstances,” the foundation’s executive director, Dave Steward, said.
The Nkandla saga is by no means over
On Tuesday, the National Assembly is expected to start the process of establishing an ad hoc committee to process Nhleko’s 50-page report absolving Zuma from having to repay anything for the R215 million taxpayer-funded security upgrades at his Nkandla rural homestead.
It will be up to Parliament to decide on the report, which also observed Zuma’s right to privacy had been invaded by the several investigations and scrutiny over the past three years.
“His (Zuma’s) family has concomitantly suffered the violation and breach of their security and safety.
“It is an unprecedented phenomenon the world over, that a president’s security and privacy is violated to the degree that we have witnessed in South Africa,” the report said.
It added that the scrutiny also exposed security details “to the general public, as well as hostile forces that may pose a threat to state security”.
In November, the ANC used its numerical dominance in the House to adopt a report clearing Zuma of any wrongdoing.
That committee of only ANC MPs – the opposition walked out in protest over the narrow mandate the committee had adopted – perused the reports by the public protector and the Special Investigating Unit, which fingered Zuma family’s architect Minenhle Makhanya and brought a civil case against him to recoup R155m.
The Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence 2013 report, which implicated a series of officials for the massive cost overruns and determined all upgrades were indeed security features, and an interministerial report, also fingered officials for the skyrocketing costs.
This ad hoc committee followed the one established early last year after a request by the DA. But the first Nkandla ad hoc committee decided to leave the matter for the new post-election MPs to deal with.
It emerged that the cabinet had discussed the report and the president knew he would not be asked to repay, leaving opposition parties to say on Thursday, that this explained Zuma’s “jovial” mood in the National Assembly.