The ANC's second most powerful decision-making body, its national executive committee (NEC), discussed the Nkandla scandal during its weekend meeting, party secretary general Gwede Mantashe said on Monday, but it was the "shortest item on the agenda".
Officially the NEC "noted" that it should stay out of the way of "processes that need to be given a chance, like the pending report of the president expected in due course, and progress on the work of the Special Investigating Unit [SIU]".
Zuma must, according to recommendations by public protector Thuli Madonsela, report to Parliament by Wednesday on her report that he and his family unduly benefited from nearly R250-million in government spending on Nkandla.
The SIU is investigating the upgrades to the Zuma family compound, with a focus on recovering state money that was paid to, but not due to, suppliers.
But in briefing media on the outcomes of the NEC meeting, a soon exasperated Mantashe found almost all questions dealing with Nkandla and the ANC's response to Madonsela's findings. Such single-minded focus, he said, "gives me a view about the quality of reporting", suggesting that the media was hyping the scandal.
He also berated the media for accepting Madonsela's report at face value.
Lack of action
Mantashe found it tough to reconcile the ANC's general policy positions with its determined lack of action on Nkandla.
In a section of its report on the NEC meeting, the ANC said the body had "affirmed and re-committed itself to high levels of public accountability and the protection of independent institutions created by our Constitution".
Asked how that could be reconciled with the statements of some ANC structures and groups on Madonsela and her office – established by chapter nine of the Constitution – Mantashe seemed unaware of the nuance of those statements, then jokingly accused journalists of heckling him.
Asked how a commitment to public accountability matched with a failure to act against Zuma, who failed to provide documents and answers questions put to him by Madonsela, Mantashe described that as an "allegation", then said he was not familiar with the questions Zuma had not answered, and then said Zuma may have been "dealing with the issues, not refusing to answer".
Mantashe also said the ANC had decided, "in hindsight", that arranging a promised media tour of Nkandla in the interests of transparency would amount to interference with ongoing processes and investigations – as would calling Zuma to account through disciplinary proceedings.