A look at the books has shown spending on President Jacob Zuma's private residence at Nkandla dwarfs spending on the homes of previous presidents.
The public works department has refused to disclose the amounts spent on former presidents' residences, and its minister, Thulas Nxesi, claimed the upgrades at Zuma’s Nkandla homestead were on par with work done at the homes of former presidents. But information gathered by the media this weekend has shown otherwise.
Former president FW De Klerk told the Sunday Times the state paid to increase the height of a perimeter wall around his property in Fresnaye, Cape Town. He said the state also paid for the installation of security cameras and the construction of a room and a toilet for his guards.
When De Klerk retired, the government paid for a security guard's hut on the pavement outside his Pretoria apartment.
The newspaper also established that government paid for the construction of an office for former president Thabo Mbeki at his retirement home in Riviera, as well as a room for his secretary, a reception area and an area for his security staff.
The City Press established the sum spent on security upgrades to Mbeki's private home amounted to R3.5-million and the public works department budgeted R28.2-million for security upgrades at former president Nelson Mandela's home in Qunu in the Eastern Cape.
The City Press also pointed out a document presented to Parliament earlier this year showed almost R1-billion worth of upgrades had been planned for the Bryntirion Estate, which houses the official residences of most Cabinet members and their deputies.
This included R191-million to be spent on the third phase of an upgrade to Zuma's official Pretoria residence, Mahlamba Ndlopfu; a R51.9-million security upgrade for the Bryntiron estate; and R50.4-million to be spent on an "executive health facility".
The public works department refused to officially disclose the figures for the security work at Nkandla, with acting director general Mandisa Fatyela-Lindie saying she could go to jail if she disclosed them. The department launched an internal investigation to identify the culprits who leaked the information to the media.
But the information, which was provided to Parliament earlier this year by Fatyela-Lindie herself, is posted on the website for the Parliamentary Monitoring Group.
The spreadsheet breaks down the spending of close to R240-million for "installation of security measures and related" in the Eshowe and Inkandla area. The spending is assigned to the department's prestige portfolio, which is reserved for spending on VIP buildings, including the president's homestead.
It shows R193-million has been budgeted for contractor fees for Nkandla, while consultant fees are projected to cost an additional R44-million. Engineers canvassed by the Mail & Guardian say the consultant fees, which stand at 23% of the contractor's fees, are well above the usual range of 10% to 15%.
Public Protector Thuli Madonsela confirmed she was investigating the state's spending on Nkandla.
Nxesi on the defensive
Nxesi's attempts on Friday to quash growing outrage over the state's spending on Nkandla were unconvincing. The minister skirted many of the questions put forward by journalists on the need for such extensive work to be done at the president’s private home.
He failed to answer questions on the number of foreign dignitaries hosted at Nkandla – part of the justification used for the expenditure – and, when asked whether the presidential guesthouse in Pretoria was still sufficient for hosting dignitaries, said only that it remained operational.
He said questioning the need for spending hundreds of millions of rands in Nkandla showed insensitivity to the cultural diversity of South Africa. Similarly, he said, asking how many days of the last year Zuma has spent at the compound was unfair and that he didn't know.
Nxesi told the press the Defence Act prohibited the disclosure of information relating to places that have been declared as national key points. "I want to repeat, the president's house, like other presidents' houses, is a national key point," he said.
The minister initially said the spending was in line with the Ministerial Handbook, but later said other rules and regulations had to be taken into consideration.
Public works maintained it did not decide on the level of spending required to protect the president but merely did what it was told to by police and the defence force.
The department denied an official request for information on Nkandla from the M&G's Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane) on these grounds. The centre appealed the refusal.