/ 21 November 2013

Security cluster fumbles through Nkandla briefing

Security Cluster Fumbles Through Nkandla Briefing

Security cluster ministers seemed to have a well-defined set of talking points they wanted to bring across on Thursday: the government did not build President Jacob Zuma a home, they had only been doing the job given to them when they challenged Public Protector Thuli Madonsela in court, it is time to stop publishing pictures of the Zuma homestead in Nkandla, and the important number when it comes to Nkandla is R71-million, not R208-million.

But in a post-cabinet briefing that at times bordered on the farcical, the ministers instead raised more questions around Nkandla than they answered.

Though the cabinet meeting that formed the basis of the briefing included a laundry list of items that were discussed, from the performance of sports teams to the disaster in the Philippines, the ministers of police, defence and state security were all rolled out to answer questions on just one point at the end of the discussion list: Nkandla, and the challenge those ministers had launched to demand the right to vet the Public Protector's report on government spending on the homestead.

But things rapidly went off the rails, with confusion about timelines and the legality of photos.

National key point
The Nkandla residence was declared a national key point in 2010, police minister Nathi Mthethwa patiently explained. "What then happened, the state committed itself, its funds, on the security detail of the President's residence," he said.

But it is well-documented that public spending at Nkandla started well before 2010, and that millions of rands had actually been spent in the previous financial year. There is also no indication that the money for security upgrades was drawn from a special account linked to national key points, or that the spirit of the act (which encourages the state to make owners pay for required security spending) was followed.

Asked about the discrepancy, Mthethwa said a threat assessment around Zuma had been done well before he assumed national office, but questions were concluded before he could be asked for further clarification.

The briefing also featured state security minister Siyabonga Cwele explaining that the state held a lease on the state land on which housing for security staff had been built, then correcting himself to say that the land was actually owned by the Ingonyama Trust, and then saying that land owned by the Ingonyama Trust is actually state land.

In fact, Ingonyama acts as a trust on behalf of the Zulu people.

Illegal photos
Mthethwa also struggled to explain an apparently new approach to photos of Nkandla. Publishing such photos is illegal, he said, as it could compromise security. Asked whether those breaking the law would be prosecuted he said the government was "asking nicely" that such photos not be shared. But the briefing ended before he could be asked whether the request was linked to the proximity of elections, or whether it amounted to a lack of seriousness with regards to national security.

Mthethwa's greatest fumble, however, must have been his invocation of the Nazi propaganda machine as analogy for those we, he said, continue to perpetrate the idea that the government built the houses in Zuma's homestead. "Those who do so follow the example of [Joseph] Goebbels, propagandist of Hitler."