When building started at Nkandla in 2009, the public works department estimated the upgrade would cost R28-million.
At a press conference on Tuesday after a meeting of its top officials, the ANC finally played the transparency card following a year of failed government attempts to suppress Nkandlagate by invoking security sensitivities.
Public protector Thuli Madonsela, the party demanded, must release her final report "as a matter of extreme urgency". It did not mention the security cluster and public works minister’s attempt last month to interdict Madonsela.
The change of heart may be attributed to the need to get a debate it cannot suppress out of the way well before the elections.
The ANC may also realise that it must get spinning if it is not to be outspun. ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe posed seven questions he said Madonsela must answer – each carefully tailored, it seems, to exonerate President Jacob Zuma.
The answers, however, might prove uncomfortable.
Mantashe’s question #1: Did Zuma request security upgrades at Nkandla?
The answer Mantashe wants: After Zuma’s inauguration in May 2009, police, defence and state security experts assessed security and found it wanting. There is no evidence that Zuma asked for anything.
The embarrassing truth: The issue is not so much Zuma requesting the upgrade as what he knew, and took advantage of, as the project unfolded.
Documents amaBhungane won from the department using access-to-information litigation show that the May 2009 security assessment resulted in plans for an upgrade then costed by the public works department at R28-million.
But Madonsela’s provisional report finds – and amaBhungane’s documents confirm – that "uncontrolled" scope creep occurred at Nkandla after Zuma started privately building three extra houses in August 2009.
In interviews conducted by Madonsela, it emerged that Zuma allegedly wanted the state to employ the same architect, quantity surveyor, engineers and building contractor he had employed for his own works. The department complied without going to tender.
This meant Zuma’s private architect, Minenhle Makhanya, served two masters: he was beholden to the president, but as the department’s principal agent was supposed to protect the public interest, including by managing costs.
Madonsela provisionally finds this constituted a conflict of interest and contributed to ever more grandiose features and expenditure.
There is much evidence that Zuma was kept in the loop.
A public works internal proposal, after Zuma’s new works starting in August 2009 forced a revision of the state’s plans, said "consensus has been reached with regards to the scope of works" following "a series of presentation meetings" between public works, the security agencies, consultants and the "end user" (Zuma).
The new scope included the relocation of families and the construction of a pool and visitors’ centre; features that Madonsela provisionally found were improperly charged to the state.
A June 2011 progress report records "action items" to be pursued by Makhanya, who was "to meet with the principal [Zuma] and present the fire pool, [and] to have further discussions with the principal on the requirements for infrastructure [marquee]".
The "fire pool" is public works codespeak for the swimming pool, supposedly because it doubles up as a reservoir for fire fighting. The marquee area also appears to lack security justification.
Zuma’s detailed knowledge is also suggested by the fact that, as officials and contractors rushed to meet a December 2010 deadline "given by the Principal [Zuma]", they were delayed by three families still to be relocated from Zuma’s land.
According to amaBhungane’s documents, the process logjammed because the families first needed to complete certain ceremonies. Frantic communiqués to the public works minister requested that the matter be escalated to Zuma "verbally and in writing" in the hope that he would "intervene".
At a later progress meeting, the department’s then deputy minister Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu confirmed "she had a discussion with the principal on the relocation [and] that she will conclude with the principal on the close off (fencing) of the relocation and report at the next meeting".
Madonsela provisionally finds that the relocation – of the president’s relatives, on whose new homes the state spent R7.9-million – was not justified as security and improperly benefited Zuma’s family.
Mantashe’s question #2: Did Zuma spend more than R200-million in state money on his homestead?
The answer Mantashe wants: The money was spent on security features and not to build Zuma’s homes. The responsible officials, not Zuma, must account for procurement irregularities that drove up costs.
The embarrassing truth: Officials circumvented the rules, but Madonsela’s provisional report says that they cited several reasons for this, including political instruction and the perceived need to appoint Zuma’s private contractors.
As already seen, Zuma’s "conflicted" private architect presided over the inclusion of grandiose features in the public works upgrade. Even true security features such as the "safe haven" escalated from roughly R500 000 in the pre-August 2009 estimate to R19.6-million.
More pertinently, it appears that Zuma did not refund the state a cent despite constant efforts by department officials to apportion to him costs that could not be justified as related to security.
AmaBhungane’s documents show that from August 2009, when Zuma started building new homes, it was understood that he would carry their cost.
By December 2010, public works officials grew increasingly anxious about the "almost doubled" costs and the need to apportion to Zuma features that could not be justified on security grounds.
"Items which are essential and items which are ‘nice to haves’ and therefore not necessarily required for this project, must be discussed," wrote one official.
By January 2011 the first of a series of apportionments were produced with the help of a quantity surveying firm that both Zuma and the department appear to have engaged – suggesting that Zuma may have been kept in the loop about the apportionment from early on.
In March that year the department’s Durban regional manager wrote to the then minister and her then deputy, informing them that R10.65-million had been apportioned to Zuma.
"It may be necessary to discuss these issues with the principal [Zuma] as the financial implication directly affects him," wrote the manager. "He may want to implement these issues himself … or he may opt to reimburse the department after we complete the same."
Either way, the manager said, his office could not proceed with the nonsecurity works unless instructed in writing.
By June 2011 a new apportionment was produced, now reflecting a total of about R3-million, and the work went ahead. The saving for Zuma was partly achieved by transferring the entire cost of the swimming pool to the state on the grounds that it doubled as a fire reservoir.
The most dramatic was for landscaping. In January 2011 it was costed at R17-million, of which R5.6-million was allocated to Zuma. By March, Zuma’s portion had been halved to just over R2.5-million, and by June to just under R1.5-million.
Even so, it appears Zuma has not refunded the state for anything, including the pool, kraal, chicken coop, visitors’ centre, amphitheatre, marquee area, paving and relatives’ relocation – whose inclusion on security grounds Madonsela disputes.
Madonsela’s report finds there is inconclusive evidence about whether the allocations reached Zuma.
The presidency has not answered amaBhugane’s questions about this.
Mantashe’s question #3: Did Zuma request that a swimming pool and a kraal be built and that his wife’s tuck shop be moved from its original position?
The answer Mantashe wants: There is no evidence Zuma made such requests. The experts said they were necessary as a firefighting reservoir and to keep undesirable elements from entering the estate to visit the existing tuck shop.
The embarrassing truth: Moving the tuck shop may have been justified for security reasons. But there is evidence, detailed above, that Zuma knew of the pool – a clearly visible feature – and that the security reasoning was contrived.
AmaBhungane’s records show that a simple pool was initially planned as a fire reservoir, but this need should have fallen away once a large reservoir was installed higher up the hill.
The regional manager’s letters to the minister and her deputy in March 2011 allocated R260 000 of the then estimated R2.35-million for the pool and associated parking to Zuma with the explanation: "decorations".
Another allocation at the time acknowledged the pool’s "dual purpose", part "recreational" and part firefighting as the "open surface water" gave an advantage over the reservoir for firefighting – presumably as buckets could be more useful than the fire hoses using the reservoir. In the end, the pool, with its extensive paving and parking, cost R2.8-million, funded by the taxpayer.
Mantashe’s question #4: Did Zuma request bulletproof glass in certain windows and the building of a waiting room?
The answer Mantashe wants: There is no evidence that Zuma requested this. The experts said they were necessary security features.
The embarrassing truth: The glass may be a justifiable security feature. But the security justification for the visitors’ waiting room and the adjacent amphitheatre is thin.
The visitors’ centre is contained in the same building as a "control room", which may be a security feature. But the original plans following the May 2009 security assessment only showed a "parking and control point" at the entrance for R129 300.
Zuma appears to have known of plans to include a visitors’ centre post-August 2009, when a new public works proposal said the scope – which included the centre – had been agreed with stakeholders including the "end user" (Zuma).
The combined visitors’ centre and control room cost the taxpayer R6.7-million.
Mantashe’s question #5: If not Zuma, who made those decisions?
The answer Mantashe wants: Security professionals made these recommendations and public works officials implemented them – they must be held accountable.
The embarrassing truth: Madonsela’s interviews suggest Zuma asked for the department to appoint his private architect, quantity surveyor and other contractors to implement the security improvements. So there is no clear distinction between the government officials working on the project, Zuma’s private team, and Zuma himself.
Government officials sometimes tried to do the right thing, but were ignored or dispensed with.
Correspondence shows that the department’s professional services team tried to control the runaway cost estimates and scope creep for phase two, submitted to them in late 2010 by Zuma’s original quantity surveyor working with his original architect, Makhanya.
But the team was sidelined. So was Bogopane-Zulu, according to Madonsela’s provisional report, after asking uncomfortable questions about cost and apportionment.
Mantashe’s question #6: What was built on state land, and who decided this?
The answer Mantashe wants: The public works department and the security cluster, not Zuma, decided to build 20 security staff houses plus amenities on public works-leased land adjacent to Zuma’s home.
More than 50% of the expenditure was on state land, not Zuma’s.
The embarrassing truth: Much of the spending will not increase the value of Zuma’s land. But even here, Zuma appears to have made his presence felt.
The department was in two minds in late 2010 about how to apportion work for the "periphery contract", and proposed possibly bringing in a new contractor.
But amaBhungane’s documents indicate Bogopane-Zulu as confirming that Zuma "does not want other contractors on site".
This apparently led to the appointment of Moneymine, which Zuma had earlier appointed as his own builder, for some of this work.
Mantashe question #7: How much was spent on the security upgrade at Zuma’s homestead and how does this compare with expenditure on other presidents’ homes?
The answer Mantashe wants: Seen in the context of the Nkandla terrain, and irregularities that were none of Zuma’s making, the R215-million spent at Nkandla is not that bad compared with spending on previous presidents’ private properties.
The embarrassing truth: The gap is vast. Madonsela’s report quotes public works figures, adjusted for inflation, as follows: Nelson Mandela (R32-million), Thabo Mbeki (R12-million), FW de Klerk (R236 000) and PW Botha (R173 000).