In an unexpected move, the presidency has thrown open the doors of Jacob Zuma's Nkandla homestead to the M&G, inviting us for a tour of the property.
Mail & Guardian journalists were on Tuesday morning given an exclusive tour of President Jacob Zuma's homestead at Nkandla in rural KwaZulu-Natal.
Though the ANC previously scheduled a general media tour of the top-secret facility, it failed to arrange that visit. As late as Monday, party secretary general Gwede Mantashe ducked questions on the Nkandla project at a press conference in Johannesburg, responding to questions on public protector Thuli Madonsela's report "Secure in Comfort", which found Zuma unduly benefited from state-funded improvements.
These upgrades included a cattle kraal and swimming pool, all built with state money. She also said in the report that he should refund a portion of the R246-million cost.
Mantashe told reporters there were "processes that need to be given a chance".
Shortly after the conference finished, however, reporters from this newspaper, who first broke the Nkandla scandal in 2009, were told by the presidency to report to Waterkloof Air Force base for a 4am flight to Richards Bay.
Later, after signing in at the guard house and the black gates slid back to admit our rental car, it was hard to believe we were now actually inside the compound. Having pored over the now famous photographs, and looked at the complex from surrounding hills, it was strange to actually be standing on the manicured lawns, dwarfed by the huge thatched roofs.
Looking relaxed in a blue blazer, tan trousers and open-neck shirt, presidential spokesperson Mac Maharaj came out from the house and across the lawns to greet us.
Over the next two hours, we were granted full access to the house, grounds and private living quarters of the president. The whole compound is off-grid and run from a mix of bio-energy from cow manure and hot air.
We also walked down the subterranean tunnel connecting the helipad to house. As we padded down the soft carpets, knee-high lights with motion sensors lit up as we approached, and faded as we moved down the corridor. Furnishings in the official bedroom are plush, which is dominated by a custom-made king-size bed.
Maharaj said that Zuma was at his official residence Genadendal in Cape Town, and it was decided to show the M&G around his Nkandla home as a gesture of transparency.
He said that other key decisions, in line with the ANC's Nkandla master plan, revolve around ensuring that future presidents can also benefit. This would also help counter the negative sentiment that state funds were being squandered on one man.
The department of public works has set money aside in the 2014/15 financial year for a major operation where several Nkandla structures will be moved brick by brick to key government prestige properties in Pretoria, Cape Town and Durban.
The amphitheatre will be rebuilt at Sefako Makgatho House, the presidential guest house in Pretoria, and will be the venue for summer concerts for the capital's diplomatic corps.
Given that Madonsela found that relocating MaKhumalo's tuck shop negatively affected her business, it was decided to move it to outside the main gate of John Dube House, the official presidential residence in Durban.
An MBA student working in the trade and industry department investigated and found that the wealthy suburb of Morningside would be more lucrative for a small business and would provide Zuma and his family a nice nest-egg for retirement.
In an inspired move, it was also felt that to keep the Democratic Alliance silent about Nkandla's burgeoning costs, the chicken run should be reassembled in Western Cape Premier Helen Zille's official residence, Leeuwenhof, so that she too can benefit from the state's largesse and save on the family's grocery bill.
We can now also exclusively report that:
- the fire pool at the compound is not, in fact, on fire;
- the visitors' centre features a number of arcade games to compensate for long waiting times to see the president, including Dance Dance Revolution; and
- what has come to be known as the "cattle kraal" is actually [REDACTED FOR REASONS OF STATE SECURITY]
At the time of publication, the tour was still ongoing and expected to take several more hours, despite the use of Segways to cut down on walking time across the extensive grounds. The M&G will publish more reports and photographs (once screened by Cabinet's security cluster) during the course of the day.
If you fell for this, the joke's on you. This was the Mail & Guardian's attempt at an April Fool's joke.