(Left to right) Ministers of the Justice Crime Prevention and Security Cluster State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele, Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi, Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa and Justice and Constitutional Development Minister Jeff Radebe brief the media on the security upgrade at President Jacob Zuma's Nkandla residence on Thursday.  Picture: GCIS
(Left to right) Ministers of the Justice Crime Prevention and Security Cluster State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele, Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi, Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa and Justice and Constitutional Development Minister Jeff Radebe brief the media on the security upgrade at President Jacob Zuma's Nkandla residence in December last year. Picture: GCIS

BY ALL accounts, the provision of security for heads of state is very costly. Reports indicate that to host US President Barack Obama in Brussels, the European Union’s budget for securing a summit increased 20%.

No doubt the security upgrades the VIP Protection Unit insists on at the personal residences of ministers add value to their property. As communications minister, I submitted to instructions that more secure skylights, an entry phone, an electrified fence and shatterproof window panes be installed in my private residence. I stood firm against the suggestion of a guard house on the property. I had to resist such blandishments from the security services again regarding my property in Cape Town. I did, however, accept the installation of beams around the perimeter of the house. All these amounted to modest upgrades of my property, but did not cost me a penny.

I did not ask for any estimates, but I was aware that to secure my person against potential mischief-makers, taxpayers would foot the bill. Similar considerations persuaded me not to endorse a plan to build an access door between the patio and kitchen of my state-owned residence in Pretoria.

The most depressing aspect of Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s Nkandla report is the complacency of the ministers who oversaw the project. No alarm bells went off when reports surfaced that the construction costs had already trebled! Although Madonsela does not suggest President Jacob Zuma acted corruptly, he cannot evade moral responsibility for what occurred.

When Zuma assumed the presidency of the African National Congress (ANC) in 2007, many hoped he would confound his detractors. Even though it has many commendable achievements in healthcare, education and social security, the record of his administration is littered with scandal.

The ANC has had its share of scandals, big and small, especially regarding the misuse of funds. From the mid-1930s it became practice to elect a person of means as treasurer-general on the assumption that, as he had his own money, he would not be tempted to dip into ANC funds.

During the ANC’s 30 years of illegality, the very requirements of security made it easy for the corrupt and greedy to dip into the movement’s coffers. After his release from Robben Island, for well nigh 20 years Zuma operated in the principal machinery that smuggled funds earmarked for underground structures into South Africa. There was never a hint that he had misappropriated even a small amount for himself and his family. It was that knowledge that made those of us who knew him then sceptical about suggestions he was corrupt.

Scandals, financial or otherwise, have undermined the credibility of the ANC and have demoralised not only its membership but also millions of its supporters. During those years in exile, one had recourse to the office of the president to address the mischief. In that spirit, Nelson Mandela acted swiftly to contain the threat by appointing the Motsuenyane commission when reports about the ANC security department emerged in 1991. Unfortunately, Zuma has been implicated in every scandal that has arisen during his term of office, making it impossible to approach his office in search of a solution.

"Sikhona na isonka apho?" was the first question Thembekile asked me when I undertook to introduce him to the personnel manager at a Cape Town supermarket in 1958. "Isonka" — bread — was slang for "goods that fall off the back of the lorry". Stealing from their employers posed few moral dilemmas for African workers, who were keenly aware of their brutal exploitation, in factories, shops and homes. Like Bernard Shaw’s Mr Doolittle, they evolved a plethora of survival skills, including turning their employers’ own prejudices against them. "As your bosses assume you steal, don’t disappoint them by being honest" was the ethic.

From Madonsela’s report, it is clear that as soon as the security services called for the security upgrade on Zuma’s personal residence, the initial cost estimates escalated. It seems the contractors discovered a legion of unanticipated expenses as work proceeded. I suspect that the team hired by the Zuma family saw an opportunity to make a nice bundle once the state became involved. Rather than devising the most cost-effective way to achieve what was required, they added those costly items — a swimming pool, a cattle byre, a fowl run, the culvert, an amphitheatre, etc — that Madonsela says amount to substantial improvements of Zuma’s property.

I find it shocking that not one minister raised the matter with Zuma or drew his attention to the potential damage to his and the government’s reputation. The ANC leadership accepted collective responsibility for the human rights abuses committed by its members during the armed struggle. ANC ministers should now demonstrate the same moral courage.

Jordan is a former arts and culture minister.