Madonsela 'feared for her life' during Nkandla investigation

Thuli Madonsela found that President Jacob Zuma had improperly benefited from a grand, excessive, opulent and obscene government upgrade to his homestead. (Madelene Cronje, M&G)

Thuli Madonsela found that President Jacob Zuma had improperly benefited from a grand, excessive, opulent and obscene government upgrade to his homestead. (Madelene Cronje, M&G)

A Sunday Times report quoted Madonsela as saying, "At no stage did we think of government harming us but because of the irresponsible statements being made ... we didn't know if ordinary lunatics or just unstable people on the ground could feel incited to harm me, given that people were being made to believe that I was trying to steal an election, basically."

Madonsela felt that government had tried to find ways to stop her investigation.

"I felt with the ganging up on me that there might be a reason found to suspend me, in which case there would be pressure on whoever is left not to move forward.

"I would say for the next public protector the protection should be tightened ... "

On Wednesday, Madonsela released her report and found that Zuma had improperly benefited from R246-million in security upgrades to his Nkandla homestead in KwaZulu-Natal.

Key findings
Madonsela found that Zuma had improperly benefited from a grand, excessive, opulent and obscene government upgrade to his homestead and should repay a "reasonable percentage" of about R20-million worth of upgrades.

Features for which Zuma should bear at least part of the cost, Madonsela said, include the swimming pool (which never really was a "fire pool") and the cattle kraal, which she said Zuma himself had had a hand in.

The report made many findings and added comments that go beyond its immediate recommendations, perhaps laying to rest some of the mysteries that have puzzled the nation for years, including that:

  • Zuma probably misled Parliament by saying the state had not built his family’s houses – but he seemed to have done so by mistake and therefore was not in violation of ethical rules;
  • Madonsela wrote to Zuma alerting him to the allegations surrounding Nkandla in January 2012, but he failed to take any action;
  • The dramatic ballooning of costs on the Nkandla project was closely linked to the actions of Zuma’s personal architect, Minenhle Makhanya, and his appointment as effective government lead project co-ordinator; and
  • Contrary to insinuations made by the ANC that Madonsela was trying to influence the elections, the report could have been published in April last year but for delays caused, primarily, by the presidency.

It was also revealed that the swimming pool was conceived as such and not as a "fire pool", as claimed by government ministers.
Former deputy public works minister Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu approved of the idea because she thought it could serve the broader community.

She proposed talks with Swimming South Africa to negotiate free swimming lessons for Nkandla’s children. The talks did not materialise.

Community location
Madonsela could find no reason why the swimming pool, the helipads, a military clinic and housing for members of the police's VIP protection service were not located closer to the community rather than behind the security fence of the Zuma compound. She said that the government's explanations were also inadequate.

"The government submission makes a point of highlighting the inhospitable terrain of Nkandla coupled with, at the time, lack of infrastructure such as roads, and properly resourced health facilities and police stations. [Former surgeon] General [Vejaynand] Ramlakan's submission that there were no such central places is contradicted by evidence.

"For example, a helipad near a rural hospital or police station could offer enormous relief to this remote community. The building of the police staff quarters at a local police station would have left a legacy for the community," Madonsela said.

Ramlakan also tried to justify the location of the facilities by explaining that the George airport was built near former president PW Botha's home in Wilderness.

Madonsela was not convinced.

"Firstly, that airport is 23km from the said private residence and, secondly, it supports the point about catering for the needs of the caretakers in a manner that takes into account that public resources should be primarily deployed to meet public needs," she said.

'Obscenely expensive'
Meanwhile, the cost of these facilities continued to grow. The police facilities were "obscenely excessive", she said. And moving Zuma's neighbours to make way for the construction was also not justifiable, she said, despite the government’s claims that they were a threat to security.

"I could not find any authority or legitimate reason for classifying the relocation of the households at state expense as a security measure as envisaged in any of the authorising security instruments."

Although these concerns plagued Madonsela’s team, they do not appear to have plagued Zuma, who complained bitterly about the slowness of the construction and the inconvenience this caused his family.

The picture Madonsela paints of him is not pretty. She shows a president quick to delay compliance with his legal duty to answer questions from her office, and seemingly eager to apply dubious legal arguments to undermine her work.

But the self-centred approach and questionable tactics went well beyond Zuma and the presidency, Madonsela found, with Cabinet ministers undermining trust not only in her office but also in the government as a whole. The government has also not come out of the saga unscathed.

"The minister of public works’ communication with Parliament, the nation and, possibly, the president was riddled with inaccuracies and inconsistencies, particularly regarding the regulatory framework employed to justify state expenditure on the upgrades at the president’s private residence, the nature of the upgrades and the extent to which the president and his family benefited from the relevant installations. This has grossly undermined trust in government." – Additional reporting by Sapa

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