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Phiyega's Nkandla fire pool claim still a burning issue for ANC

Glynnis Underhill

The ANC is not backing down from its stance that police commissioner Riah Phiyega should be censured for misleading its national executive committee.

President Jacob Zuma's Nkandla homestead as pictured in August 2012. (Rogan Ward, Reuters)

The ANC is not backing down from its stance that police commissioner Riah Phiyega should be censured for misleading its national executive committee (NEC) when she told them the swimming pool at President Jacob Zuma's Nkandla residence was a fire pool.

This week, ANC spokesperson Keith Khoza said the party's secretary general Gwede Mantashe wanted the government to address the police commissioner on why she misled them about the swimming pool. "The ANC cannot act on it," said Khoza on Wednesday. "The ANC's national executive committee has referred the matter back to government and asked it to take action."

Phiyega's spokesperson Solomon Makgale said the police commissioner would not be commenting on any Nkandla issues, and instead referred the Mail & Guardian to the Government Communications and Information Systems (GCIS). However, GCIS acting chief executive Phumla Williams declined to talk about the matter. "We are not going to comment on what the ANC says," said Williams.

Yet the issue of the swimming pool on the Nkandla estate is clearly a burning issue, which still needs to be addressed. While Mantashe said Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa was expected to take appropriate action, he instead defended Phiyega on Monday, telling journalists that what she had said on the matter was the view of the security cluster.

In December Phiyega explained at a press conference that those who grew up in rural areas knew there were no fire extinguishers or fire brigades. The fire pool at Nkandla was being used as a swimming pool but doubled up as a fire-fighting device, she was reported as saying. 

Public protector Thuli Madonsela reveals in her report "Secure in Comfort" that while there were attempts to present the swimming pool to her as a fire pool, she did not buy the story.

The report describes how adequate water had to be made available on the Nkandla project in the event of a fire. According to the evidence of a project manager at the department of public works, Jean Rindel, it was a requirement of the South African Police Service (SAPS) and the department of defence that a reservoir be installed as part of the Nkandla project to ensure that adequate water was available in the event of a fire.

Water reservoir
"Running water is not readily available at Nkandla and there is no nearby municipal fire brigade," the public protector's report stated. "The idea was to have a fire truck on the premises that could be filled from the water reservoir. Fire-fighting capability was also regarded as necessary due to the fact that the president is transported to his private residence by helicopter. The evidence shows that ultimately, the swimming pool, in addition to the water reservoir, was constructed."

Former deputy minister of public works, Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu told the public protector's office that during her involvement, she supported the idea of the possibility of building a swimming pool, which could be used as a water reservoir and at the same time be utilised to teach children of the Nkandla community to swim.

"She planned to get Swim South Africa involved to teach and train children. However, she was removed from the project before her idea could be further considered," the report explained. "It transpired from the investigation that what initially was supposed to be a fire-pool [water reservoir] was converted into a swimming pool. Mr Rindel explained that it was decided that as it was a requirement to have a fire pool, to make it aesthetically pleasant as well by building it in the form of a swimming pool."

The motivations and cost allocations document prepared by consultants on March 11 2011 indicate that the costing of the fire pool was combined with the cost of parking facilities that had to be built, and the public protector's report reveal the motivations for these items was stated as follows:

"Fire pool is a ground water storage facility intended for dual purpose. First to be used for fire-fighting in case of emergency. The second use is recreational within the homestead. Note: open surface water compared with reservoir storage is easily accessed in case of emergency.

"Parking garage is provided in limited space closer to the dwellings, dedicated for VIP cars for the principal and first lady.

"The total cost of the swimming pool and parking garage referred to above amounted to R2 819 051.66. Mr Rindel indicated during the investigation that the parking garage for VIP cars was required by the SAPS. I noted that this was not included in the SAPS security evaluation reports," the public protector's report stated.

"According to the records of the department of public works, the visitor's centre also houses a legitimate security feature that was identified as necessary in all the security evaluations conducted. However, the security feature occupies a small part of the double story building that boasts a large visitor's lounge with a sizeable balcony overlooking the swimming pool and a paved terrace. One of the witnesses interviewed during the investigation stated that the visitor's centre was a requirement of the presidency. I approached the director general of the presidency in this regard in writing on August 26, and when I finally met him in December 2013, he advised that he was not aware of any involvement of that nature from the presidency."

Insufficient
The architect on the Nkandla project, Minenhle Makhanya, told the public protector during a site visit that the fire extinguisher equipment on the site was connected to the swimming pool, so that its water could be used by the force of gravity in the event of a fire.

"However, he could not provide a satisfactory explanation why a water reservoir, similar to the one that was installed for household use would not have sufficed," the public protector's report elaborated. "It was also unclear why the same one [water reservoir] did not suffice."

Makhanya also stated that the construction of the swimming pool required the building of a retaining wall, as the large amount of water it holds would pose a risk of flooding, due to the slope on which the residences were built.

"It also resulted in landscaping interventions that had to be implemented to deal with the risk of storm water," the public protector's report stated.

In her report, Madonsela called for remedial action from Zuma. "The president is to take steps, with the assistance of the national treasury and the SAPS, to determine the reasonable cost of the measures implemented by the department of public works at his private residence that do not relate to security, and which includes the visitor's centre, the amphitheatre, the cattle kraal and the chicken run, the swimming pool," the report states. 

The public protector recommended that Zuma should pay a "reasonable  percentage" of the costs of the measures, as determined with the assistance of national treasury and the department of public Works apportionment document.

  • It is the story that would define a presidency. Phillip de Wet pulls together four years of reporting about Nkandla into a compelling e-book, now available for $2.99 from Amazon.com and authorised Paperight outlets.

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