Nkandla: Zuma drags new police minister into fray

President Jacob Zuma has effectively watered down the recommendations from the public protector’s report into security upgrades to his private residence in Nkandla in his report back, putting the onus on his new police minister, Nkosinathi Nhleko, to determine whether he should pay back any portion of the costs.

In the report, Zuma instructed Nhleko “to report to Cabinet on a determination to whether the president is liable for any contribution in respect of the security upgrades having regard to the legislation, past practices, culture and findings contained in the respective reports”.

This differs markedly with the public protector Thuli Madonsela’s recommendations.

In a report released in March, Madonsela found Zuma and his family had unduly benefited from the R246-million security upgrade to his private home in Nkandla, KwaZulu-Natal, and suggested remedial action that included that the president should:

  • “Take steps, with the assistance of the National Treasury and the SAPS [South African Police Service], to determine the reasonable cost of the measures implemented by the DPW [department of public works] at his private residence that do not relate to security, and which include the visitors’ centre, the amphitheatre, the cattle kraal and chicken run and the swimming pool”; and
  • “Pay a reasonable percentage of the cost of the measures as determined with the assistance of National Treasury, also considering the DPW apportionment document.”

How the ‘ANC deals with controversy
Wits University political analyst Professor Susan Booysen said the timing of the release of Zuma’s response was “calculated” and “typical of the way that the Zuma-led ANC deals with controversy”. 

Zuma’s statement was released at a time when Parliament is in recess, when the Special Investigating Unit’s (SIU) final report into Nkandla has yet to be released, and just after the SIU filed a civil claim against Zuma’s architect, Minenhle Makhanya.  

Booysen said the timing appeared to be firstly to hold on to the narrative and prevent organised opposition parties in Parliament from responding to the report. In Parliament, opposition parties had an “institutionalised” voice, and could demand clarification on Zuma’s statement. Now, opposition parties will have to react to an established narrative around Zuma’s response and Nkandla, Booysen said. 

“This is typical, a case study of the Zuma ANC in government: to use all these processes, which swirl around the executive and which keep the issue away from Parliament. 

“I think it’s a deliberate strategy; there may even have been a rush to get the report out this week,” Booysen said. She added that the timing of the civil claim against Makhanya “feeds into this beautiful”. “Makhanya is the fall guy. We know that the architect was inappropriately appointed, but the question remains – who appointed him? I see the timing feeding perfectly into Zuma’s strategy, which is to find a culprit and then release statements while Parliament isn’t sitting,” Booysen said.

Exorbitant security upgrades
Zuma on Thursday finally submitted his response to Parliament around the exorbitant security upgrades to his private residence at Nkandla, ending with five recommendations which mostly revolve around internal Cabinet report-backs.

The presidency released Zuma’s response to the media on the same day, saying it was a response to three reports on the matter, namely the public protector report, a report-back from his own ministerial task team, and a provisional SIU report Zuma himself commissioned.

Zuma declined responding to Madonsela’s report within the specified two-week period, stating he would wait until all reports on the matter had been submitted and considered. After the two-week period, Zuma informed the previous national assembly speaker Max Sisulu that he would wait for the SIU report before responding in full to Madonsela’s findings.

Zuma then missed his own deadline to reply to the protector by mid-July and said he wanted to reply after the SIU completed its own investigation.

Critics have pointed out however that the public protector’s report has legally higher standing, and should not be matched up against other reports commissioned by government.

Recourse to Madonsela’s finding
The only recourse to the public protector’s finding is to take her reports on judicial review.

The SIU provisional report has not been released to the public, and the findings are for the first time summarised in Zuma’s response today.

Other instructions by Zuma include:

  • The police minister to “expedite the review” of the national key points act, which is already in progress. 
  • The minister of public works to urgently report to Cabinet on the “review of the protocols and procedures regarding procurement, expenditure and oversight applicable to prestige and related projects”. 
  • The security cluster ministers and minister of public works to report to Cabinet on “their clearly defined roles and responsibilities when dealing with the security which attaches to the president” and other such figures “within the applicable legal framework”. 
  • Cabinet to “conduct a review of the cabinet policy of 2003, relating to security of the president” and others “with a view to setting parameters for expenditure and implementation”. – Additional reporting by Sarah Evans

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Verashni Pillay
Verashni Pillay is the former editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian, and inaugural editor-in chief of Huffington Post South Africa. She has worked at various periods as senior reporter covering politics and general news, specialises in mediamanagement and relishes the task of putting together the right team to create compelling and principled journalism across multiple platforms.

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