Jacob Zuma has defended the building of a new town near Nkandla, saying it is part of government's strategy to improve the conditions of rural people.
"The president has not instructed ministers to provide funding and a budget for the Nkandla-Mlalazi Smart Growth Centre," he told Parliament during a question and answer session on Thursday.
He conceded that the rural development and land reform department supported the Masibambisane Rural Development Initiative with the detailed planning of the Nkandla initiative.
In August, the Mail & Guardian reported on the R2-billion development being built just 3.2km from Zuma’s home. Half of the cost is set to be carried by public funds with the other half coming from private investment.
The "emerging town" of Zumaville, which will cover 200 hectares and could comfortably accommodate 10 000 middle class homes, is envisaged to include government facilities, including offices for home affairs and social development; new community facilities, such as a library, theatre and recreation centre; a new school with boarding facilities; a community safety centre and additions to an existing clinic, a recreation centre featuring a swimming pool and tennis courts, light industrial units, including an agricultural market and housing centred around community gardens.
The project is the brain child of Masibambisane, a rural development organisation that Zuma chairs. It’s believed that the agriculture department was also set to make an R800-million contribution to the organisation for the project.
Government later clamped down on information concerning the project, with former government spokesperson Jimmy Manyi saying any information on the development would be contained in annual reports submitted to Parliament and that interested parties should "monitor the presentations and interact with information" they contained for further details.
On Thursday Zuma said no other national departments had made commitments to the delivery of facilities and infrastructure on the site and that the smart centre was part of a provincial programme to revive small rural towns and formalise rural unplanned towns and urban settlements.
He said other towns that would benefit from this programme included Ndumo, Manguzi, Msinga, Mbumbulu, Nkandla, Charlestown, Jozini, Ngwavuma, Dududu, Weenen and Colenso.
"It is important to emphasise that even at a national level, Nkandla is not the only district that is receiving attention for rural development," he said. Zuma listed 23 districts that had been identified by government for interventions to alleviate poverty.
Many of the programmes Zuma mentioned were small in scale – involving infrastructure development and upgrades like the building of roads, bridges and walkways, crèches and recreational facilities.
He said the rural development and land reform department is working with the Sekhukhune district municipality to plan "a rural node similar in size and scope to the Umlalazi-Nkandla Smart Growth Centre, for the Jane Furse township".
"It is a pity that only Nkandla seems to generate interest," he said.
DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko asked whether Zuma could "justify the spending of R2-billion in one area, that just happens to be just 3km from his homestead, while other areas a few kilometers away are without the most basic services".
In response Zuma said: "Why should people at Nkandla, 3km from where Zuma stays, starve? Why must they be isolated? Why should others who are in other areas be more important than those? Should they be punished because they are neighbours of Zuma? I don’t think so."
He said that Nkandla was well-known for being a poverty stricken area and that development was also happening in many other rural areas but that "you don’t talk about those".
He defended the variable spending by the rural development department different areas, saying: "The money will never be the same, one size fits all. The developments are not the same."
Zuma said he would "never be embarrassed by development in rural areas" and that rural development had to start somewhere.