The ANC has had to depersonalise the issue of Nkandla ahead of elections, making it less about Jacob Zuma and more about wrong or over-expenditure.
Coming out of a thee-day meeting with its national executive committee (NEC) in Nelspruit this week, the ANC seemed to have settled on a strategy to deal with the unpopular issue of public expenditure of up to R206-million on President Jacob Zuma's private resident, if the post-NEC briefing to media by secretary general Gwede Mantashe was anything to go by.
This involves acknowledging that too much money was spent, but putting the blame on others and insisting the president knew nothing about it, saying the recommendations of the government task team report must be followed.
"Anybody who is guilty of having received monies wrongfully during the security upgrade project must be pursued criminally and all monies misappropriated must be recouped from the civil servants and contractors," Mantashe said.
But he insisted this was not a scapegoating ploy.
"Those who will believe that they are scapegoats because they will want to say they acted on the directive of a certain political principal have a responsibility to say who the political principal was. That scapegoat has a responsibility to disclose who those political principals are."
The statement was made preemptively, before questions were asked. The ANC had similar accusations levelled against it during the scandal surrounding the landing of a private jet by the politically-connected Gupta family at a military airbase. A subsequent investigation revealed it was done on the orders of "number one" but mostly junior heads rolled in the aftermath.
Mantashe also sent out an ominous warning to public protector Thuli Mandonsela. The ANC and government are awaiting her report into the Nkandla scandal, having released their own task-team report into the upgrade. Mantashe warned that it would be cause for concern if the two reports differed.
While government's own report exonerates Zuma, Madonsela's provisional report finds that he derived "substantial benefit" from a pool and other features, according to details of the report published in the Mail & Guardian in December.
But Mantashe emphasised he would brook no disagreement when the final report was published, saying on Wednesday: "Our understanding is that these two state institutions must be reading from the same set of facts and if there are divergence determinations made and findings it is an issue that would be of interest and we would have to interrogate."
He went off script to make the comments.
"But the set of facts should be the same. If there is a difference in the determination it will require us to interrogate the reports further. That is the point we are making."
'Long time coming'
Mantashe said the report was a long time coming and the party was keen to read it. "The public protector has been working on that report for a long time, we don't expect her to take another six months."
He said the party would be suspicious if the timing of the report's release seemed dubious. "If the public protector releases it close to the elections we will actually assume it will be intended to tilt the balance of forces in the election," he warned during the question and answer section of the briefing. "It will be intended to muddy the waters in the election campaign."
The briefing also included details of the party's unveiling of its manifesto on Friday at a gala dinner, and the launch of its annual January 8 statement on Saturday by Zuma at Mbombela Stadium.
The entertainment that has been secured include Idols winner and runner-up Musa Sukwene and Brenden Ledwaba, Zahara, Sfiso Ncwane and Ihashi Elimhlophe, the ANC said.
Meanwhile, threats that Zuma may be booed again were dismissed by the party.
ANC spokesperson Jackson Mthembu said: "We know each and every person getting into the bus and the taxis," he said, adding that the party's NEC and leaders including Zuma had a day of campaigning in the province this past week and experienced no booing.
Mantashe dismissed the very notion of a threat.
"When booing is planned ahead of an event it is not booing, give it the right name," he said.