Editorial: An inconvenient Nkandla truth?

With the ANC's Mangaung conference around the ­corner, it is hard to resist the impression that Zuma has been embarrassed by media disclosures about public money being spent on a private dwelling that will remain in his hands – and no future president will require – when he is no longer at the helm.

Members of the ANC who will decide his future at Mangaung could ­reasonably ask why the roughly quarter of a billion rand being spent on this self-serving project is not being used to build houses or improve hospitals.

The latest official evasion is the public works department's refusal to answer questions the Mail & Guardian's centre for investigative journalism asked under the Promotion of Access to Information Act, on grounds that the very broad secrecy provisions of the Key Points Act cover the homestead.

We suspect the homestead was declared a key point only after the department received our Promotion of Access to Information Act application. It is rather striking that in May, when there was no media hue and cry, public works presented a payments schedule to Parliament revealing that projected spending on the project had risen to R238-million. In other words, it appears quite willing to place information in the public domain – except when the media requests it.

As a law mandated by the transparency provisions of the Constitution, we believe that the Promotion of Access to Information Act trumps the Key Points Act, an apartheid survival. But the central point is that even the much-maligned secrecy Bill, now in its final stages in Parliament, will outlaw the classification of information for ulterior purposes.

Presidential blushes
This would obviously include the sparing of government and presidential blushes – what other motive can the government have? Our questions focused on the financial and contractual aspects of the development and we specifically stated in our application that we were neither seeking, nor were we interested in publishing, information that is security-sensitive.

To lay to rest public unease about what is happening at Nkandla, a full and frank government response is needed on a number of questions. The department has never provided a clear projection for the overall cost of the project, and the one figure it has provided – R36-million, apparently for works in 2011 – appears to omit a further R26-million in payments to consultants.

According to public works, R10-million of the outlay is for Zuma's account. Given that he has earned less than this in salary as president, how will he pay? Legal analyst Pierre de Vos suggests that the Hawks might be interested in the answer to this question. De Vos has also said that the development appears to violate the Executive Ethics Act, which prohibits the president from using his position to enrich himself, and that the ministerial handbook restricts unrecoverable state expenditure on the security of Cabinet members' private residences to R100 000.

Public works announced that it is investigating who leaked embarrassing internal documents on the Nkandla development. It should realise that until, it answers the public's legitimate questions, this story will not just go away.

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.


The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

Advertising

Where is the deputy president?

David Mabuza is hard at work — it’s just not taking place in the public eye. The rumblings and discussion in the ANC are about factions in the ruling party, succession and ousting him

Zuma turns on judiciary as trial nears

Former president says pre-trial correspondence is part of another plot

SANDF inquiry clears soldiers of the death of Collins Khosa

The board of inquiry also found that it was Khosa and his brother-in-law Thabiso Muvhango who caused the altercation with the defence force members

Lockdown relief scheme payouts to employees tops R14-billion

Now employers and employees can apply to the Unemployment Insurance Fund for relief scheme payments
Advertising

Press Releases

Covid-19 and Back to School Webinar

If our educators can take care of themselves, they can take care of the children they teach

5G technology is the future

Besides a healthcare problem Covid-19 is also a data issue and 5G technology, with its lightning speed, can help to curb its spread

JTI off to court for tobacco ban: Government not listening to industry or consumers

The tobacco ban places 109 000 jobs and 179 000 wholesalers and retailers at risk — including the livelihood of emerging farmers

Holistic Financial Planning for Professionals Webinar

Our lives are constantly in flux, so it makes sense that your financial planning must be reviewed frequently — preferably on an annual basis

Undeterred by Covid-19 pandemic, China and Africa hold hands, building a community of a shared future for mankind

It is clear that building a community with a shared future for all mankind has become a more pressing task than ever before

Wills, Estate Administration and Succession Planning Webinar

Capital Legacy has had no slowdown in lockdown regarding turnaround with clients, in storing or retrieving wills and in answering their questions

Call for Expression of Interest: Training supply and needs assessment to support the energy transition in South Africa

GIZ invites eligible and professional companies with local presence in South Africa to participate in this tender to support the energy transition

Obituary: Mohammed Tikly

His legacy will live on in the vision he shared for a brighter more socially just future, in which racism and discrimination are things of the past

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday