The president's architect and Riah Phiyega seem to be the focus of the ANC's damage control plans after Thuli Madonsela's Nkandla report release.
Relieved that public protector Thuli Madonsela did not find President Jacob Zuma "guilty" when she released her report into his Nkandla home on Wednesday, the hardliners in the ANC will now focus their attention on opposition parties and anyone within the ANC who dares to question the conduct of the president.
- Madonsela exposes the rot at the heart of Nkandla
- ?Why Madonsela didn't implicate Zuma in her Nkandla report
The thrust of the responses of the party and the government, headed by Justice Minister Jeff Radebe, was that Zuma had done nothing wrong. He rebuffed the call of the Democratic Alliance (DA) for impeachment and the instituting of criminal charges against a sitting president.
The ruling party's primary concern is "the negative publicity" around the Nkandla issue and – according to ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe – its impact on the party's electoral performance, and not necessarily the implications on Zuma's leadership qualities.
This is why Mantashe, Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans' Association chairperson Kebby Maphatsoe and head of the party's integrity committee Andrew Mlangeni on Wednesday questioned the timing of the release of the report. Mantashe said on Thursday that the release would have a "disruptive effect" on the election campaign.
The acting leadership of the ANC Youth League said on Thursday that Madonsela had acted in concert with opposition parties to damage the ANC ahead of elections.
'Fear within the ANC'
A leader from within the tripartite alliance on Wednesday said Zuma's "leadership is now strengthened and the [2012 ANC national conference in] Mangaung losers will not use anything against him".
But a government minister said on Thursday that there was a "fear within the ANC against those who are not impressed with the perpetual misbehaviour of the president. Those who want the Nkandla report to be raised within the party will do so at their own peril."
A senior party leader on Thursday expressed doubt that party leaders would call Zuma to account during the national executive committee (NEC) meeting next week. "No one will dare raise that – you all know that," said the leader.
Other ANC leaders, who felt the party was again trying to save the president at all costs, were equally ready to raise the electoral costs "and the breakdown of public trust" caused by efforts to defend Zuma.
A provincial leader told the Mail & Guardian that the hardliners were in the majority and were dictating the party's view on Nkandla and other issues affecting the president.
No special meeting
Mantashe said there would be no special meeting to discuss Madonsela's report. He said that next week's meeting of the NEC would discuss party business, which could include the Nkandla report.
Even though Mantashe said the party would neither ignore nor undermine Madonsela's report, he hinted at the possibility of a court challenge.
He said the difference between her findings and that of the interministerial task team was a cause for concern that needed to be resolved by an appropriate state institution.
The task team insisted that the building of the "fire pool", chicken run, kraal, visitor centre, amphitheatre and more, using public funds, were necessary for Zuma's security.
But Madonsela's report dismissed these justifications and found that Zuma had to pay back a portion of the costs.
It appears that once again lesser officials will have to take the fall.
Zuma's personal architect
Zuma's personal architect Minenhle Makhanya appears likely to be made the sacrificial lamb. Madonsela found that Makhanya became a de facto project co-ordinator for Nkandla after Zuma introduced him to the government team as his preferred architect.
"The role of the architect or principal agent needs further scrutiny and if his actions led to undue enrichment and wrongfully accessing the state funds, such funds will have to be recovered," said Mantashe, saying everyone must be "pursued" but evading direct questions on whether this should include Zuma.
He reminded journalists that Madonsela had not implicated Zuma. "Let's pursue those highlighted in the report … we must not follow our emotions and passions," he said, adding that if Zuma had to answer, "the ANC will call the president to answer questions on any matter".
The ANC expressed unhappiness with government officials whom it said "have gone public with inaccurate information" and called for them to be censored.
"The information and description of the swimming pool as the fire pool and the details given to explain this matter constitute a misrepresentation of facts," Mantashe said.
"The minister of police [Nathi Mthethwa] is expected to take appropriate action in this regard."
'Throw it on the fire'
This could be a tacit reference to national police commissioner Riah Phiyega, though he did not mention her by name. In December, during a government press briefing on Nkandla upgrades, Phiyega justified the construction of a swimming pool by saying people who grew up in rural areas knew that in the absence of fire extinguishers or a fire brigade the "best we know is to take a bucket, dip it in water and throw it on the fire".
Phiyega and Mthethwa could not be reached for comment on Thursday.
ANC treasurer general Zweli Mkhize said the ANC had been told that a fire pool – ? and not a swimming pool – was built at Nkandla.
"The description that was given to us is what we have given in public. We went to meetings and asked questions and the answer we were given was completely erroneous. We're very upset with that."