In a report released by government this week it emerged that the state has paid a total of R206-million to refurbish President Jacob Zuma's private residence at Nkandla. At a recent press conference, Public Works Minister, Thulas Nxesi reported that R71-million had been paid for security upgrades and R135 208 022 had been spent on operational requirements, which included houses for SAPS and defence force members, a helipad and a clinic.
Citing security reasons, much of the report on the expenditure is going to remain secret, leaving us all to wonder what else has been paid for by the taxpayer. The Minister also went to great pains to point out the President was unaware of the costs incurred, but assured the public that beyond the R206-million used for security and the operational requirements, no public funds were spent on Nkandla. This comes after the news that McCords, a state subsidised hospital in Durban, has informed its staff that the facility will most likely close at the end of March. The hospital has not yet received notice from the health department as to whether government will renew its funding and if it did not, it would lose its licence to practice. To put things into perspective, the hospital had only received 50 percent of its annual budget for the 2012/13 financial year, 22 percent less than the previous year's R89.3-million.
It was also revealed this week that some 12 million South Africans go to bed hungry, which leads to the question: who in their right mind would ever give the go ahead for this ludicrous spend? The fact that such an exorbitant amount of money was spent on an individual's private home has infuriated both the opposition and Cosatu, an alliance partner of the African National Congress (ANC).
Referring to the amount spent as 'grotesque', Cosatu's spokesman Patrick Craven said that the issue was grossly insensitive to workers, the poor and the homeless. Government however, believes it has nothing to apologise for. It was reported in The Star that when asked whether government believed that R206-million was a reasonable sum to spend upgrading a single residence or whether an apology was due to the public, Nxesi said, "I am not sure what public apology you are talking about, being accountable is to say how we have spent the money. We are accountable, we are opening up, we are going beyond the normal practice when it comes to the issue of secrecy."
The project was first mooted in 2009, and in a report in the Mail and Guardian that year, it was stated - with some outrage - that the cost of refurbishing the property was R65-million and that the taxpayer would be footing most of the bill. By mid-2012, this figure had risen to more than R100-million and by September 2012, the cost had inflated to R203-million. The latest figures confirm that the overall amount has increased by approximately R3-million.
Secret or not, government has an awful lot to answer for. However, instead of admitting that the spend may have been a tad over the top, government has chosen to blame others within the Public Works department for the financial fiasco. Citing possible violations of supply chain management procedures, Nxesi said it was clear that there were a number of irregularities with regard to the appointment of service providers and the procurement of goods and services. He added that the department officials responsible would face immediate disciplinary action.
What really needs to be addressed though is who opened the cheque book and decided that R206-million was a reasonable price to pay for the security and operational requirements of South Africa's president. The fact that government has repeatedly stated that President Zuma was not aware of the costs involved doesn't wash either. Surely it is the president's responsibility to become involved, at a certain level at least, in order to fully understand how much money is being spent on his private residence? Sadly, it looks as though the mystery surrounding who knew what and who authorised the goings on, will remain just that - a mystery.