Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi has defended his department's decision to splurge more than R238-million on the security upgrade of President Jacob Zuma's luxurious homestead in Nkandla, saying there was nothing private about Zuma's house.
"What is private about the president's house? The president does not have a private residence. We deal with his security wherever he is," Nxesi told the Mail & Guardian on Thursday. Except for Nkandla, which has always been known as Zuma's private home, the president has official residences in Durban, Pretoria and Cape Town.
Despite the public outcry since last year over what appears to be a misuse of taxpayer's money to upgrade Zuma's private house, Nxesi claimed that the leaking of information on the eve of the opening of ANC's nominations was intended to damage Zuma's chances to be re-elected party president in Mangaung in December.
"The fact that [the leaking of information] springs up on the eve of nomination raises questions," Nxesi said. "Why now? Your newspaper published the story in November last year. Why did people have to wait until now to leak the [so-called top secret] document?"
City Press reported on Sunday last week that the department was spending R203-million on the upgrade of Zuma's house. However, the M&G has now established that the total amount being spent for the upgrade is more than R238-million.
Brought to book
Nxesi told the M&G his department would do anything to ensure those who leaked the document were brought to book.
"It is clear that there are moles within the department. I must know who leaked the information. People [officials] are sworn into confidential agreements. We are going to investigate how the information landed in the hands of the media," said Nxesi.
Nxesi refuted claims that his department lied when it told the M&G last November that the budget for the upgrading of Zuma's home was R36-million, whereas the current figure of R238-million is more than six times that amount.
At the time, the department said the R36-million budget was for the construction of 10 houses for air force personnel, 10 houses for police personnel as well as a military health facility, perimeter fencing, a helipad, landscaping, bulk infrastructure and water supply and houses for families who were relocated outside the compound.
Among other things, the ostentatious Nkandla compound comprises underground living quarters with about 10 air-conditioned rooms, a clinic for the president and his family, a gymnasium, 20 houses for security guards that are above ground, underground parking, playgrounds and a visitor's centre.
Nxesi said he was concerned about the publishing of information regarding Zuma's house because it is regarded as a national key point.
"Even in developed countries like Britain you can't have that," the minister said.
"Which country do you know where people can talk about the president's bunkers? Which country has done that? That's why this thing makes us so mad."
Since he took over as South Africa's president in 2009, Zuma has been accused by both members of the ANC and opposition parties of prioritising his family and home village above anything else.
Two months ago the M&G revealed details about how the government was planning to spend more than R1-billion of taxpayer's money to build the first new town in democratic South Africa – just 3.2km from Zuma's Nkandla homestead.
Initial estimates are that, in addition to the more than R1-billion the government will have to spend on the development, a further R1-billion will be required from the private sector to make it viable.
The project is the brainchild of Masibambisane, a rural-development organisation that is chaired by Zuma. The organisation has been described by opposition parties as a hand-out scheme used by Zuma to curry favour.
The department of agriculture, forestry and fisheries has taken up the development project with apparent enthusiasm. It has so far donated more than R800-million towards Masibambisane-related projects.
Following the M&G's exposé of Zuma's home and village, the government took a decision not to release information relating to any developmental projects in the area of Nkandla.
In August this year, former government spokesperson Jimmy Manyi issued a statement saying any information relating to Nkandla developmental projects would be contained in annual reports that would be submitted to Parliament only in September.
"Government has noted that some members of the media have been asking departments to provide information concerning their involvement or financial contribution to the Nkandla development project," said Manyi.
"The 2011-2012 financial year has been completed and government departments are in the process of finalising their annual reports.
"Information concerning any project undertaken by departments and budget expenditure will be outlined in these reports. The reports will be presented to Parliament towards the end of September 2012 and all interested parties, including members of the media, are encouraged to monitor the presentations and interact with information contained in the reports accordingly."