AS PUBLIC anger appears to be growing about the upgrades to President Jacob Zuma’s estate in Nkandla, his critics are likely to start looking for ways either to expose the full amount of spending, or to stop the project from continuing. Up until now, despite being forced to have a press conference on this issue on Friday, Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi has refused to say how much is being spent on the project.
Over the weekend, more claims were reported about the estate, including the fact that not one but two AstroTurf football fields have been built for Mr Zuma’s security guards. But it appears it will be difficult for anyone to stop the project, partly because of legislation around "national security", and partly because of the African National Congress’s (ANC’s) deployment policies.
The main claim against Mr Zuma — that the Nkandla upgrade would cost between R203m and R230m — is based on documents leaked to the City Press newspaper from within the public works ministry. Mr Nxesi is investigating who was responsible for the leak. As a result, it would appear that someone driven either by public interest or political motives within the department is already working against Mr Zuma. However, there are few options available to force Mr Nxesi to disclose exactly how much money is being spent.
Mr Nxesi says the upgrade is being determined by security assessments carried out by the security services. But it appears that these services are firmly under the political control of Mr Zuma, through his ally, State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele. Mr Cwele’s former wife, Sheryl Cwele, started a lengthy prison term for drug trafficking last week, and yet Mr Zuma has not removed Mr Cwele from his Cabinet despite the sensitivity of his position. This indicates it could be in Mr Cwele’s interest to ensure the upgrade of Mr Zuma’s estate conforms with his perception of Mr Zuma’s wishes.
The ANC’s deployment policy, which has seen the party ensure its cadres are deployed to important state offices, could also ensure that Mr Zuma’s desires are met, through that parallel hierarchy. The officials, who are paid by the state, may find themselves in the position of having two bosses — the government and the ANC leaders to whom they owe their jobs. Thus they are likely to ensure that any security assessment includes the need for two AstroTurf football fields, should Luthuli House deem them necessary.
At the same time, the National Keypoints Act makes it difficult to use legal means to uncover the extent of government spending on the project. The act not only makes it difficult to enter the premises, but other legislation means there are few legal grounds on which to mount a challenge to that spending. This means the only way around the legislation is to challenge its constitutionality in court. That would be a costly exercise and could bring a political claim that those challenging the law want to make South Africa’s leaders vulnerable to physical attack.
In the meantime, the Democratic Alliance has asked Public Protector Thuli Madonsela to investigate. However, Ms Madonsela has already said that because of budgetary constraints, all she has done so far is to contact the Presidency and ask it for information.
It would not appear to be in the interest of that office to comply speedily with her request.
This means the best option opponents of Mr Zuma might have is to stoke public anger as much as possible and hope the pressure will force other information into the open. That there is already one person leaking documents from the Department of Public Works would indicate it is a strategy with some hope of success.
• Grootes is the host of the Midday Report on Talk Radio 702 and 567 Cape Talk
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