The president said he would respond only after the Special Investigating Unit's report, so what changed?
President Jacob Zuma on Thursday unexpectedly and curiously released his report to Parliament – which is in recess this week – stating that Police Minister Nkosinathi Nhleko, who was appointed by Zuma and serves at his pleasure, must determine whether the president is personally liable to repay any money spent on Nkandla.
Zuma had earlier said he would not give Parliament his side of the Nkandla story until he had received the final report on an investigation by the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) into the multimillion-rand security upgrade at his rural homestead. That report is only due to be handed to Zuma next week.
However, the president said he had “received and considered” a progress report from the SIU before drafting his own response. It was handed to Zuma in June and contained neither findings nor recommendations about corrective action.
In another peculiarity of timing, the report has been filed while Parliament is still in recess.
The Zuma report, though perfunctory, seemed carefully calculated to distance him personally from decisions made about Nkandla but shows that he had already taken steps to correct the systemic weaknesses that allowed for massive overspending on the project.
All those corrective measures are to be taken by members of the Cabinet.
In Nhleko’s case, Zuma said he must have regard “to the legislation, past practices, culture and findings” contained in reports on Nkandla by a government task team, the public protector and the SIU. But Zuma provided no deadlines or timelines for Nhleko to determine how much he owes, if anything.
The SIU on Monday filed a R155-million civil claim against Zuma’s personal architect and the project leader of the state-funded security upgrades, Minenhle Makhanya, in the high court in Pietermaritzburg. Makhanya is accused of spending state money without orders, and the SIU said he could therefore be held personally liable for the entire sum.
Public protector Thuli Madonsela said in March that Zuma should be held liable for a fair portion of the money that was spent to his benefit on non-security features at Nkandla, including a swimming pool.
Madonsela’s report, titled Secure in Comfort, ran to 450 pages. The report Zuma submitted to Parliament on Thursday totals 20 pages, including the cover page.
In it, Zuma reiterates that improvements to his family homestead “were financed by a home loan obtained from one of the four largest commercial banking institutions in the republic”. He provides no further details of the loan, despite the fact that various investigations have failed to find evidence of the registration of such a bond.
Zuma also shows thinly veiled disgust at what he has previously characterised as an urbancentric approach to the Nkandla matter.
Homes for security personnel had to be built because his home is in a rural area, Zuma said. “Persons drawn from rural communities can and do play a role in the development of our constitutional democracy.
“Like most South Africans, I am particularly proud of my community and never miss an opportunity to go home to Nkandla – the demands of my work schedule permitting,” Zuma wrote, in two incongruous paragraphs of personal sentiment amid rigid legalese.
“I sometimes wish it otherwise but I do not shed my status as president when I am at home in Nkandla. People continually visit me [and] seek my advice, support and counsel on a whole range of matters. Similarly, matters of government do not grind to a halt during those all-too-infrequent visits to my homestead and consequently, my role as head of the executive is likewise not suspended during these visits.”
In a brief explanation of the background to the security upgrades, Zuma confirms that he introduced Makhanya, his architect, to various ministers and officials.
But he steers well clear of any suggestion that his introduction could have been seen as a suggestion that Makhanya should become the principal agent of the government security upgrade. The intent, Zuma says, was to ensure the government team was “apprised of the pre-existing plans for construction of the residences and that there would be as little disruption as possible to the work already commissioned”.
In similar fashion, Zuma never steps back from his previous claims that he was not aware of the vast scope or cost of the security works, but confirms that “from time to time, I received briefings both formally and informally from the various ministers engaged with the security enhancements”.
And at such briefings, Zuma says, he got involved in the nitty-gritty of the upgrades, complaining about delays and features such as bullet-proof windows, which, he said, he found “an excessive encroachment on my use and enjoyment of my property”.
At no point does he refer to the swimming pool, referred to as a “fire pool”, the kraal built for his cattle or the accompanying chicken coop, all highlighted in Madonsela’s report. Nor does he make mention of the fact that Madonsela found him to have been guilty of ethical violations.
Although the actual SIU report on Nkandla had not yet been delivered to Zuma, he said that it would point to fraud by some suppliers, and that criminal dockets were being prepared to be handed to prosecutors.
Zuma’s spokesperson, Mac Maharaj, who was apparently in Angola on Thursday, could not be reached by phone. Zuma’s legal adviser, Bonisiwe Makhene, referred the Mail & Guardian to another legal adviser, Michael Hulley, who in turn referred questions to Maharaj.
Nhleko could not be reached for comment at the time of publication. His private secretary said he was in a meeting. His spokesperson, Musa Zondi, was said to be on a flight.