The Presidency on Thursday issued a press statement outlining details of a hitherto secret expansion of President Jacob Zuma’s family compound at Nkandla.
The statement was issued late on Thursday afternoon, just before the Mail & Guardian‘s deadline in a clear attempt to limit the impact our lead story on Friday, which exposes the new construction.
We discovered the building work during a visit to Nkandla over the weekend, and were able to establish details of the large new houses, clinic and helipad that are being built.
When we approached the Presidency for comment on Tuesday they refused to speak to us, while the department of public works untruthfully insisted that no construction was under way.
Journalists are enjoined by the Press Code and legal precedent to provide the subjects of stories a fair chance to respond. We followed this principle, which we believe in, strictly.
”By effectively breaking our story in advance, and robbing us of exclusivity, the Presidency has damaged the relationship of trust that we had developed with officials there,” said M&G editor-in-chief Nic Dawes.
”Competition is an important part of a vibrant media landscape, and the drive to secure scoops is an important energising factor in our constitutionally prescribed work. Skilled communicators understand this, and realise that they need to be able to work with us. If a story represents problems for them they attempt to provide convincing answers, or spin, they do not torpedo us by releasing press statements to our competitors before we can publish.”
”If government communicators make it impossible for us to trust them with basic courtesy, we will struggle to share information with them, and two things will suffer: their ability to try and shape our opinions, and the willingness of journalists to seek all sides of every story. Ultimately, that is bad for democracy,” Dawes added.
Govt not footing bill
In its statement, the Presidency said taxpayers were not paying for the renovations.
”We urge the media to leave the family alone to conduct its business, and reject any insinuation that there could be any untoward abuse of state resources by the president or his family,” spokesperson Vincent Magwenya said in a statement.
”The Zuma family planned before the elections to extend the Nkandla residence, and this is being done at own cost. No government funding will be utilised for the construction work. This is a private matter which should be left to the family,” Magwenya said.
He added, however, that the state was to undertake construction work outside the perimeter of the Zuma household.
This was in line with the security and medical requirements afforded to heads of state. Construction of accommodation for Zuma’s security staff, a helipad and a clinic would be paid for by the government.
”The Presidency is fully aware of the need to separate public from private expenditure.
”The demarcation at Nkandla is very clear, and there can be no reason to confuse the private construction work in the Zuma household and the state facilities that will be constructed outside the perimeter,” said the statement.