Jacob Zuma still 'not safe' in Nkandla compound

President Jacob Zuma has told the SIU he did not exercise any undue influence relating to upgrades at his controversial Nkandla residence. (Madelene Cronjé, M&G)

President Jacob Zuma has told the SIU he did not exercise any undue influence relating to upgrades at his controversial Nkandla residence. (Madelene Cronjé, M&G)


Fifteen years, well over R200-million and several investigations later, Nkandla is still not secure. President Jacob Zuma’s palatial homestead in rural KwaZulu-Natal is ringed by two fences, has bulletproof glass and a last-resort underground bunker. 

But even as state expenditure at the compound creeps towards a quarter of a billion rand, and even though efforts to secure it now have a history a decade-and-a-half long, Zuma and his family may still not be entirely safe.

Or, at least, they were probably not yet sufficiently safe as of July this year. In August the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) presented its report on Nkandla to Zuma; that report is now before Parliament and the public as a result. 

Buried near the end of the 245-page document is an intentionally cryptic warning based on a visit the unit made to Nkandla in July, after eventually gaining access.

During that visit, the SIU said, “the investigating team noted a number of matters of concern relating to the upgrades that have been effected”. For reasons of security, it said, the details were excluded from the report, but require urgent attention. Measuring the security features against initial threat assessments, the unit said, “a further evaluation of the security situation [by the SA Police Service] should be undertaken as soon as possible”.

The warning was issued even though the SIU said it did not have full and unfettered access to the compound during its one visit and had trouble verifying what had actually been constructed.

Fifth review
If the recommendation for a new review is followed it would be the fifth time since 1999 (when Zuma became deputy president) that the police give formal consideration to security at Nkandla. As deputy to Thabo Mbeki there was apparently little real concern about Zuma’s safety at Nkandla; a 2007 review by the police found that recommendations made in 2004 had seen little done beyond providing fire extinguishers and an intruder alarm.

In 2009, with Zuma installed as president, that changed dramatically. Paralleling the findings of the public protector, the SIU documented a host of government officials who suddenly, and with no clear explanation even under oath, started breaking rules with wild abandon or just made up rules on the spot in order to ram through improvements of “indefensible extravagance”.

The SIU had been tasked with investigating procurement processes, but went much further.

As it explained in its report to Zuma, the law requires it to act to the benefit of the state rather than just stick to the terms of reference it is given by the president — and it considered itself obliged to figure out why so many officials acted in so strange a manner. That took it all the way to the top, and to probe persistent allegations that bureaucrats were told they needed to meet Zuma’s expectations.

Having been so implicated, the SIU sent Zuma a list of 15 detailed questions, including whether he had signed off on landscaping or had been consulted on the colour of a fence. Zuma, the SIU said, responded with a three-page letter, denying he had any undue influence or had expressed any firm views. 

Criminal dockets
That was the end of that particular road for the SIU, which has no authority to cross-examine those in its cross-hairs — but not necessarily the end for the allegations themselves. The unit prepared criminal dockets on three former acting directors general of the department of public works and “disciplinary dockets” on 12 current department employees. Prosecuting those, the SIU said, may unearth the truth.

“In the absence of cross-examination in which the different versions can be tested, we are unable to accept or reject any of the versions [including Zuma’s],” the SIU said. “However, if the disciplinary inquiries or criminal trials are properly prosecuted, the different role players will be subjected to cross-examination and a determination will be made on whose version to accept.”

The courts, if the matter ever reaches them, could well find the job of determining the truth to be complex. One government official explained to the SIU that what may have been interpreted as orders from above had, in fact, been “requests” rather than “instructions”, but that requests from superiors had to be complied with by reason of their origin.

Claim of unjust enrichment could succeed against president

The Special Investigating Unit (SIU) said it could, technically, claim back money wasted on Nkandla from a number of parties — including President Jacob Zuma and his family.

The unit said the claims it has instituted make it obvious “that the value of the president’s, or the Zuma family’s, residential complex was enhanced”. 

On that basis, a claim of unjust enrichment could succeed against Zuma, as it could against the contractors who built Nkandla.

The SIU believes the most legally sound recovery strategy is to target just one person for all of the wasted money: Zuma’s architect Minenhle Makhanya. 

Hence its civil claim against Makhanya for R155-million, currently under way in the high court in Pietermaritzburg.

But its report leaves the door open for Makhanya to draw Zuma into the court case and also provides a basis for calculating the amount Zuma can hypothetically be held responsible for.

Although public protector Thuli Madonsela held that Zuma should pay a “reasonable percentage” of the Nkandla costs, she declined to calculate the actual amount. 

Zuma has made Police Minister Nathi Nhleko responsible for calculating the actual amount, if any. The SIU provides an accounting of “security” features the state paid for that benefit only Zuma and his family, and that the state had no business paying for. 

These exclude over-designed but genuine security features and the swimming pool, the cattle kraal, and other elements that benefit the Zuma family.

The total Zuma could, hypothetically, be held responsible for is R14.8-million.

  • Although security improvements required only a perimeter road for patrolling, the state built six roads inside the compound. “It needs to be accepted that four of these were necessitated by the security upgrades,” the SIU said. “The other two roads are for the sole use of the private residents.” Cost: R3.6-million
  • Police wanted an air-conditioned emergency bunker, but contractors ended up installing air conditioning in three private houses. Cost: R4-million
  • Some of the security works required subsequent landscaping and rehabilitation of the grounds, but actual landscaping went far beyond that; some 44% of the work done benefited only the Zuma family. Cost: R3.3-million
  • A visitors’ lounge built on the grounds was never requested as a security feature, and seems to serve no such purpose. Cost: R3.9-million
Phillip de Wet

Phillip de Wet

Phillip de Wet writes about politics, society, economics, and the areas where these collide. He has never been anything other than a journalist, though he has been involved in starting new newspapers, magazines and websites, a suspiciously large percentage of which are no longer in business. PGP fingerprint: CF74 7B0F F037 ACB9 779C 902B 793C 8781 4548 D165 Read more from Phillip de Wet


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