The security upgrade at President Jacob Zuma's private Nkandla homestead in KwaZulu-Natal was essential, a Cabinet minister insisted on Thursday.
Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi told journalists the rural setting of Nkandla posed a security hazard.
"The violent history of this area of KwaZulu-Natal, the fact that the Zuma homestead and family members had previously been attacked on three occasions, and the fact that the president has to conduct government functions, such as receiving official delegations, necessitated major security upgrades."
Ministers of the justice, crime prevention and security cluster flanked Nxesi as he released a task team's report on the Nkandla upgrade at the GCIS offices in Pretoria.
The report was expected to be released earlier in December but was postponed. Cabinet then ordered its release.
The decision was announced after an attack by the ANC on public protector Thuli Madonsela about the timing of her own report on the more than R206-million upgrade.
Zuma's safety at risk
"[We have] endorsed the recommendations and directed that the report be released to the public," Cabinet said at the time.
Earlier this year, Nxesi classified the report, saying it would put Zuma's safety at risk if released.
On October 8, the high court in Cape Town ruled that a Democratic Alliance (DA) bid for the release of the report was urgent.
DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko approached the court on September 30 to obtain an order compelling the public works department to provide her with a copy of the task team's report.
A few weeks ago, the Mail & Guardian reported that Madonsela found – in her preliminary report – that Zuma misled Parliament and benefited substantially from about R20-million of work that had nothing to do with security features, including a swimming pool. Madonsela condemned the leak of the report to the newspaper.
Meanwhille, Nxesi on Thursday said allegations that Zuma used state resources to build and upgrade his private Nkandla homestead are unfounded.
Nxesi said Zuma did not ask for the upgrade.
"The requirement to provide security for presidents, both sitting and retired, remains the responsibility of government. The Ministerial Handbook did not adequately address security around the head of state, deputy president and their families."
Regarding the controversial tuck shop, among other things, Nxesi said the state was duty-bound to construct it after relocating it.
"The tuck shop existed long before the president was inaugurated and was relocated within the three hectare land of the president.
"Due to the security risk posed by the movement of people [customers], the tuck shop had to be relocated from within the premises and erected at the perimeter of the premises," said Nxesi.
The task team's report would show no state funds were used to build the president's private residence, he said.
Families posing security threats
At the media briefing, journalists also heard that the families neighbouring the homestead were moved because they posed a security threat, Nxesi said.
It was up to his department to implement the recommendations of the security cluster of ministers, he told journalists.
"The neighbouring families had to be relocated as they were identified as a security risk to have them within the high-security zone," he said at the release of a task team report into the upgrade.
"A feature known as the chicken run was constructed within the cattle kraal. It was created as a replacement to a number of building-block structures that were scattered around some of the main dwellings, which were obstructions and potential hiding areas for intruders." – Sapa