/ 3 March 2016

Stone Sizani: We always wanted Zuma to pay back the money

Stone Sizani says Nathi Nhleko's report
Stone Sizani says Nathi Nhleko's report

Stone Sizani, the outgoing ANC chief whip in Parliament, says the ANC parliamentary caucus, under his leadership, always wanted President Jacob Zuma to repay a portion of the millions of rands spent on security upgrades at his Nkandla homestead and had always supported the public protector, Thuli Madonsela, in that regard.

Sizani is soon to become South Africa’s ambassador to Germany.

He distanced the ANC from Police Minister Nathi Nhleko’s report on Nkandla, which exonerated Zuma and concluded he was not liable to pay the state back any of the money spent on his private residence.

This is a sharp departure from a statement Sizani issued on May 28 last year, in which he appeared to concur with Nhleko’s findings. 

This week he said Nhleko’s report was “irrelevant”.

Nhleko this week said he stood by his report that found Zuma did not have to repay any of the money spent on the Nkandla security upgrades, despite the president’s apparent offer to do just that.

The police minister found that ­certain features at Zuma’s home, such as a cattle kraal, amphitheatre and a swimming pool – the so-called fire pool – were necessary to protect him and should thus be classified as ­security features.

“We have been consistent on our position that President Zuma needed to pay a portion of the Nkandla money in line with the public protector’s decision,” Sizani said this week.

He dismissed reports that ANC MPs were angered by Zuma’s U-turn in the Constitutional Court last month, where the president abandoned almost all his previous defences against repaying the state. 

“I have been addressing the ANC caucus for the past two years now,” Sizani told the Mail & Guardian. “Not a single MP stood up and said they were unhappy with how the Nkandla matter was handled. Everyone is allowed to express his or her views in those meetings. No one diverted from our position, which said there was a need to quantify the amount that Zuma needed to pay.”

Sizani said he did not understand why people say Zuma made a U-turn regarding the Nkandla matter because Zuma had always said he was prepared to pay back the money. 

“The only time there was a diversion was when one minister of police [Nhleko] released a report, which contradicted our position that the president must pay back a reasonable amount of the money spent on nonsecurity features in Nkandla.

“The public protector recommended that the police and the treasury must determine the amount, which needed to be paid. Anything outside that will be like a vote of no confidence in the public protector. The ANC caucus stuck with its position that supported the public protector that President Zuma must pay back a portion of the money.

“The ad hoc committee report in Parliament also supported the public protector’s recommendation that the president must pay back a reasonable amount.

“There was no two ways about this. If you disagreed with the public ­protector, you needed to take her report for a [judicial] review,” said Sizani. 

Police minister Nathi Nhleko releasing the findings of his Nkandla report on May 20 2015. (Deon Raath, Gallo)

Although the outgoing chief whip told the M&G he would not miss his work in Parliament, he dismissed suggestions that he was pushed out because of his critical views on the Nkandla saga.

He said he was not surprised by his redeployment as a diplomat because he had been informed about it some time ago by ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe.

On Thursday, the ANC released a statement dismissing suggestions that Sizani was forced out of his position as chief whip: “We reject with the contempt they deserve any opportunistic speculation that seeks to suggest nefarious reasons behind comrade Stone Sizani’s redeployment. The ANC has exercised its right to deploy its cadres to positions where it deems fitting and necessary. Comrade Sizani will commence his training towards his diplomatic posting with immediate effect. The ANC is confident that comrade Stone will discharge his new responsibility with the same tenacity and determination he has consistently displayed as a loyal and dedicated member of the African National Congress.”

Sizani said he was happy that, under his leadership as ANC chief whip, Parliament was able to pass crucial legislation.

He cited the replacement of the expropriation Bill of 1975 with ­constitutionally sound legislation as an example.

“We managed to reorganise how people do land claims, which is important for South Africa. We have passed many finance Bills. Of course it is not good to have some Bills returned by the president, but it happens everywhere in the world.”

Sizani said he did not believe the credibility of Parliament had been damaged by the Nkandla saga.

“Some people are trying to rubbish the credibility of Parliament, but they failed. I have full confidence in ANC MPs that they would not allow a situation where the credibility of Parliament is compromised.”

He said the Democratic Alliance’s failed motion of no confidence against Zuma on Tuesday was an indication that the president still enjoyed support to lead South Africa.

“When 279 MPs pass a motion of confidence in the president, his leadership in Cabinet and government, it’s an indication that he enjoys support.”

Asked whether he agreed with calls from some sectors of society for Zuma to step down, Sizani said: “I don’t believe I must answer that. There were [only] 99 MPs who voted against the motion of confidence in Zuma.”