Zuma pays back the money – but where did he get the R7.8-million?

President Jacob Zuma has finally paid back R7.8-million – a portion of the tax money spent on installing non-security features at his Nkandla homestead in rural KwaZulu-Natal – seven years after renovations first started. The saga began with renovations estimated at R60-million taking place at Nkandla. But this figure quickly ballooned to R246-million through inflated pricing, later discovered by public protector Thuli Madonsela.

A statement released by Zuma’s office on Monday confirmed the president has #PaidBackTheMoney. 

“President Zuma has paid over the amount of R7 814 155.00 to the South African Reserve Bank as ordered by the Constitutional Court of South Africa in respect of his private homestead at Nkandla,” it reads.

By the time the Nkandla renovations were completed, the project costs had skyrocketed and close to R100-million was spent on a chicken run, cattle kraal, calvert, visitors’ centre, swimming pool and amphitheatre.

In March this year, the Constituional Court found that Madonsela’s “Secure in Comfort” report on the expenditure at Nkandla, correctly classified these features as non security upgrades. Chief justice Mogoeng Mogoeng said Zuma’s failure to comply with Madonsela’s remedial action was tantamount to him breaking his oath of office. Mogoeng instructed the national treasury to determine a reasonable amount Zuma would have to pay back and set a time frame of 45 days for him to do so.

On Monday afternoon, treasury confirmed that Zuma had paid R7.8-million rand back to the state.

Where did Zuma find R7.8-million? 
While the finances of the first family have always been subject to gossip and speculation, the presidency’s statement confirms that Zuma did not turn to his relatives or well-known business associates to pay the Nkandla bill.

Instead, the presidency says, Zuma was granted a standard home loan by VBS Mutual Bank, a wholly black-owned bank started in 1982 as the Venda Building Society. In its statement, presidential spokesperson Bongani Ngqulunga said VBS is “one of the few financial institutions which offer home loans in respect of land owned by traditional authorities”. 

This means that Zuma received the loan despite not being in possession of a title deed for the land on which his homestead was built.

According to the VBS website, which lists the bank’s shareholding structure, 25% of the bank is owned by the state-owned Public Investment Corporation, 26% by Dyambeu Investments, 1% by its staff and 48% by an unnamed source.

The president is known to keep moneyed friends such as the controversial Gupta brothers, who were accused of plotting to control state resources through developing allies in crucial government departments and state-owned companies.

Among the long list of the president’s wealthy friends is also KwaZulu-Natal entrepreneur Vivian Reddy and other contributors to the Friends of Jacob Zuma trust. Before ascending to the presidency, the trust helped Zuma pay his legal bills while fighting off more than 700 corruption charges.

In February the trust’s chairperson, late KwaZulu-Natal entrepreneur Don Mkhwanazi, said the organisation is virtually non-existent, but he would not reveal if it intended offering the president financial assistance. Mkhwanazi and Reddy both denied that Zuma approached them for help.

In July, ANC Mpumalanga chairperson David Mabuza was condemned by the party’s secretary general, Gwede Mantashe, for asking ANC members to help the president pay. Mabuza’s Ehlanzeni region had already set up a trust account to help Zuma pay, but this was also condemned.

“All I am saying is that the Con Court is quite clear, the ANC cannot pay whatever amount. A structure of the ANC cannot do that because if it were to be traced and found that it had, it would be in contempt of court,” Mantashe said at the time.

Mantashe had also warned individuals and business people who indicated their willingness to help the president pay back the bill.

“The ANC cannot stand between the president and whatever relations he has with individuals. But all we are saying is that even at that level, if that individual boasts and says ‘I have raised so much for the president’ they actually will be on the wrong side of the law,” he said.

Zuma is due to answer questions in the National Assembly in Parliament tomorrow.

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Govan Whittles

Govan Whittles is a general news and political multimedia journalist at the Mail & Guardian. Born in King William's Town in the Eastern Cape, he cut his teeth as a radio journalist at Primedia Broadcasting. He produced two documentaries and one short film for the Walter Sisulu University, and enjoys writing about grassroots issues, national politics, identity, heritage and hip-hop culture.

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