Public protector Thuli Madonsela will surge ahead with her investigation into the multimillion-rand upgrade of PresidentJacob Zuma's rural homestead in Nkandla – in spite of a public works report released on Sunday that "exonerated" the president.
"In view of the release of this report, I will continue the investigations into the matter and aim to conclude and deliver my report by no later than March 31," Madonsela told the Mail & Guardian on Sunday.
Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi said on Sunday a ministerial investigation found no evidence of state funds being used to upgrade President Jacob Zuma's private rural residence in Nkandla.
"There is no evidence that public money was used to fund upgrades at the private residence of President Jacob Zuma in Nkandla," he said after releasing the departmental report on the matter on Sunday. He also insisted that Zuma was not aware of the details regarding the upgrades.
But the Mail & Guardian on Sunday published a letter that shows the president was kept up to date on the progress of the renovations of his home in rural Nkandla, KwaZulu-Natal.
Nxesi minister did confirm to journalists during a briefing on the ministerial inquiry that over R200-million of department money was spent on beefing up security at the residence after it was declared a national key point in April 2010.
He claimed the costs incurred were commensurate with securing the premises as a national keypoint.
According to the report, R71-million was spent directly on security, while a further R135-million was spent on operational costs incurred by state departments involved in the upgrade.
Nxesi added that the report remained secret and would not be released lest security details of the Nkandla homestead become public.
But Madonsela told the M&G she would need to scrutinise the public works report as part of her inquiry, adding she would request a full copy to assist in her department's own investigations.
At this stage, it remains unclear if public works will release a copy of the report to the public protector, with the department failing to respond to a call for comment late on Sunday.
There was also mixed reaction to the release of Nxesi's report, with the ANC claiming it cleared Zuma of any wrongdoing and opposition parties saying it amounted to a whitewash.
"This report vindicates the president and our belief in the innocence of the president in this regard, on what he consistently said were lies and that he personally built his residence," Jackson Mthembu, ANC spokesperson said in response to the report.
Mthembu said the matter should now come to a close.
"We call on all South Africans including those with fixed opinions on this matter to accept what is an outcome of a professional and independent report," he added.
But Democratic Alliance parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko said the report was a poor attempt to prevent Zuma from being held accountable.
"There was absolutely no willingness on the part of government to admit to South Africans today that spending this amount on one man's home is ethically and lawfully wrong," Mazibuko said via a statement.
"Minister Nxesi must not think that the findings of this 'secret' report will stop questions from being asked."
Mazibuko's comments were echoed by Congress of the People president Mosiuoa Lekota.
"It is unacceptable that any public money has been used in this fashion to develop the private residence of a politician. We should not be led to believe it was above board," he said.
Along with the public protector's report, an investigation by the auditor general and the standing committee on public accounts are being carried out on the Nkandla upgrades.
"We are going to engage the department on this report and take action from there," the committee's chairperson Themba Godi told the M&G.
"All investigations should be allowed to carry on regardless of these developments. The fact that they've produce this report might help our own investigations, but it doesn't mean it will curtail it."