Govt insists upgrades were vital to security
Government has cautiously accepted public protector Thuli Madonsela's findings into security upgrades at President Jacob Zuma's private residence in Nkandla, they said at a preliminary briefing on Wednesday in Pretoria, following the release of the report.
But they said they still needed to go through the report and make a fuller statement. Justice Minister Justice Radebe said at the briefing. Government reiterated that all measures, including the pool, cattle kraal and additional structures were "necessary for the security of the president", despite the public protector finding otherwise.
Despite this difference, the ministers seemed committed to Zuma paying back his portion for these expenses as recommended by the report.
But they emphasised this was an initial response and the presidency would respond in full once it had studied the report.
Madonsela's 443-page report was firm but strenuously fair, meaning government and Zuma are likely to follow through on the remedial action recommended in the report.
The strained relationship between Madonsela's office and government caused some to fear a deadlock once the report was released, with Zuma taking it on judicial review if he disagreed with the findings.
But in a surprise turn-around thanks in large part to Madonsela's even-handed approach, the report has not sparked further acrimony between the two parties.
Journalists were briefed by a gathering of ministers known for being particularly loyal to Zuma, including Angie Motshekga, Radebe and those involved with the upgrade, such as Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa and Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi.
Radebe read from a statement welcoming the report and readily admitting to maladministration, corruption and inefficiencies in the project, saying government's own task team report had found the same.
Motshekga said this was a preliminary report as government and the presidency was still studying the report. But they told journalists that they were already implementing corrective measures and Zuma had signed a proclamation for the Special Investigative Unit to investigate any acts of criminality committed during the upgrades.
Government ministers still went to lengths to save face in their response to the report. They insisted on using the terms "retaining wall" and "fire pool" instead of referring to an amphitheatre and swimming pool as Madonsela had.
'No public funds' used for private resident
Government's task team's report released last year after a to-and-fro quoted security experts saying Zuma's pool and amphitheatre were necessary for security purposes. But the public protector's office dismissed the spin on the structures, calling them an unnecessary expense beyond security needs.
Radebe also welcomed "that the report is categorical in stating that no public funds were used in building the private resident of the president". The distinction was disingenuous however, as Madonsela found that state funds were incorrectly spent on further structural upgrades to the residence that had nothing to do with security, including the pool, chicken run, cattle kraal, visitor's centre and amphitheatre. Zuma must now pay back a portion of these costs.
Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi told the Mail & Guardian after the briefing that the findings seemed very similar to government's own findings.