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Nxesi clears Zuma of Nkandla scandal

Sarah Evans

Taking full responsibility for "the project", Minister Thulas Nxesi says Jacob Zuma had no knowledge of upgrades done to his Nkandla homestead.

Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi. (Gallo)

Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi on Thursday moved to exonerate President Jacob Zuma from the scandal involving spending at his Nkandla homestead, by saying the president did not ask for the upgrades nor was he briefed on any of the costs involved.

Flanked by other security cluster minister, Nxesi took full responsibility for "the project", he said.

"President Zuma did not ask for security installations. As per normal procedure, SAPS [the South African Police Service] and department of defence conducted a security assessment, as per their mandate. As it will be shown in the findings of the task team report, no state funds were used to build the president's private residence.

"It is important to understand this process because this is where ultimate responsibility for the upgrade lies. It is the responsibility of the department of public works to implement the recommendations from the security cluster and to manage the costs of the project in line with the Cabinet policy of 2003. Attempts to lay the responsibility for the upgrade at the door of the president are misdirected," Nxesi said.

The cluster released its task team report into Nkandla on Thursday, after a call by the ANC that the report should be declassified. The report has been ready since January, but was classified for security reasons. Nxesi said that the version released on Thursday had also been edited for security reasons.

'Necessary'
The violent history of this area of KwaZulu-Natal, the fact that the Zuma homestead and family members had previously been attacked on three occasions, and because the president has to conduct government functions such as receiving official delegations, holding regular meetings and business consultations from his private residence, necessitated major security upgrades in Nkandla.

"The requirement to provide security for presidents, both sitting and retired, remains the responsibility of government. The Ministerial Handbook did not adequately address security around the head of state, deputy president and their families hence the Cabinet policy of 2003," the ministers said.

The report completely cleared Zuma of any wrongdoing – without interviewing or talking to the president or anyone from his office. However, the task team found irregularities in the procurement of the goods used to upgrade the homestead, and has asked the Special Investigating Unit and the auditor general's office to investigate.

The swimming pool, amphitheatre, cattle culvert and other amenities constructed at Nkandla were all necessary, the ministers said, adding that there were no "nice-to-haves" installed at the homestead.

"A retaining wall, which is the so-called amphitheatre meant for ground protection, is not an amphitheatre but constructed as a structure with steps. It is in excess of 4m height, broken down in the form of stepped terraces and curved to give it more structural stability against the earth."

Chicken run, cattle kraal
The cattle kraal and tuck shop, already in place before Zuma became the president, had to be relocated for security reasons. The ministers said the cattle posed a threat to the security equipment located on the perimeter fence, and a culvert was built to redirect the cattle so that they did not share an entrance with people.

"A feature known as the chicken run was constructed within the cattle kraal. It was created as a replacement to a number of building block structures that were scattered around some of the main dwellings, which were obstructions and potential hiding areas for intruders. The relocation of these loose structures to a dedicated area improved the security on site," the ministers said.

The "fire pool" is currently being used as a swimming pool but doubles up as a fire-fighting device, in case of emergency.

National police commissioner Riah Phiyega explained that the water reservoir is used for drinking water, as Nkandla is built on "inhospitable terrain" without basic amenities.

No further details could be provided about the pool, as this idea apparently came from the department of public works's engineers, who were not at Thursday's briefing to answer questions. 


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