R3,5m spent on Mbeki house security

The South African government has spent R3,5-million on security measures in President Thabo Mbeki’s retirement home, under construction in the up-market Johannesburg suburb of Houghton, the government said on Friday.

This is according to a South African Broadcasting Corporation news report, which said Public Works Minister Thoko Didiza confirmed the amount spent in response to calls by the Democratic Alliance to say how much taxpayers’ money was being used for the R22-million residence.

The department’s spokespersons were not immediately available for comment.

The figure of R3,5-million is in line with information contained in a ”Memorandum by the Minister of Public Works setting out particulars of the building programme for 2006/7”, tabled in Parliament earlier this year.

The document states between R3-million and R5-million would be spent on security for Mbeki’s home.

Meanwhile, the DA leader Tony Leon said on Friday that it was possible that the Mbeki’s were feeling ”a little embarrassed” by being caught spending so freely on a retirement mansion ”in the midst of dire poverty”.

In his regular internet column, SA Today, Leon — who defended his chief

whip Douglas Gibson over his recent visit to the Johannesburg mansion — argued that the possible embarrassment was ”not incidentally because presidents and their spouses are not entitled to spend their money as they deem fit, it is simply the somewhat uncomfortable irony of the president’s recent pontifications against greed and conspicuous consumption”.

This had included a dig at those for whom freedom was defined by — amongst other things — ”the spaciousness of [their] houses and their geographic location”, said Leon.

Noting that the DA had been accused of cheap tactics, racism, breaching state security, reprehensible conduct, infringing human dignity, failure to fulfill its mandate as the opposition, and ungentlemanly conduct towards the first lady, he said that the nation still did not have a clear answer to the straightforward question: ”Is state money involved in the construction of President Mbeki’s home, and if so, how much?”

Referring to the visit to the Riviera, Houghton, home last Friday, Leon said: ”I regret that Mrs Mbeki regards Mr Gibson’s actions as having invaded her privacy when he demonstrably did not do so and never intended so to do.”

Leon noted that with Mbeki’s ”often Soviet leadership style contested on every front within his own party” and the DA’s questions about the retirement house ”provided an ideal pretext to rally wavering supporters in the kind of race-tinged attack that united all factions in the ANC — however briefly.”

The opposition leader noted that a bevy of journalists had turned up with Gibson.

”Over 40 media hacks-and-hounds attended [the] conference outside — not inside — the property in question. By contrast, when the DA launched our website for victims of violent crime — surely a praiseworthy initiative involving an enormous constituency of traumatised South Africans — we attracted some five journalists only.

”It was the press, so censorious a few days later about our ‘cheap publicity stunt’, which scaled ladders, climbed trees and even hired a helicopter in their zeal to sex up a story that was not, in the DA’s view, really about the house itself, but about its possible cost to the public purse.”

Turning to the government, he said: ”The government’s tactics on this issue underscore the fact that it basically disdains and disparages what is required of it in a democracy. It enjoys loudly proclaiming South Africa’s democracy for overseas consumption, yet cannot tolerate at home those vital, if irritating, aspects of democracy — accountability, transparency and press freedom.

”This was graphically illustrated by the president’s recent visit to hospital for an angiogram — a serious procedure, I know, from personal experience. The norm in mature democracies is routinely to issue announcements on the health of heads of state; not so in South Africa. Because the press managed to glimpse the president on his way to hospital, we discovered he was undergoing this delicate medical procedure.

”There were no cries of outrage at the invasion of the president’s privacy, and — more importantly — no widespread objections when the president’s security took film from the assembled photographers.”

Leon noted that ”extraordinarily, the National Editor’s Forum remained completely silent on this clear invasion of press freedom, yet its members spit venom at my party for simply doing its job”. – I-Net Bridge, Sapa

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