The Ghosts of Nkandla Return

Private Property South Africa
Lea Jacobs

The Mail and Guardian, by invoking the Promotion of Access to Information Act, has recently been able to lay its hands on 12 000 pages of material surrounding the Nkandla saga and while the newspaper admits that the documents in its possession are not a complete record, they do make some important aspects inescapably clear.

Documents labelled top secret disclose that in order to ensure security it was essential that the project be removed from the “public eye” stating that the information could be used by the enemies of the State to engineer an attack. It also noted that these projects are further targeted by journalists in an attempt to discredit the Government in general.

While it is apparent that the secrecy surrounding Nkandla was not only to ensure the President’s security, it is also clear that many of the costs involved, which are being funded by the taxpayer, have little or nothing to do with the President’s safety.

To date, “securing” Nkandla has cost the South African taxpayer approximately R206-million. Unfortunately, the documents reveal that the money spent was for far more than bullet-proof glass and other security measures. It has been revealed that the state was quoted R1-million for an improved cattle kraal and that a landscaper had quoted R14.3-million for work that needed to be done at the residence. Two-thirds of the landscaping costs were borne by the State. Sewerage installations and a rubbish compaction unit were also somehow deemed to be the financial responsibility of the Government.

While the costs for the project ballooned, the amount that the President would be directly responsible for dwindled. The Mail and Guardian now estimates that the President will be footing five percent of these upgrades. The disturbing part in all of this is that it appears that things aren’t over yet. The estimated expenditure is expected to reach R273.8-million by the time the Nkandla project is completed in 2015.

The documents also show that the project was fast-tracked from the very start. Normal procurement processes were overlooked and in one instance a struggling contractor, who threatened legal action, was bailed out by the Industrial Development Corporation to the tune of R10-million, this despite the fact that the contractor already owed it millions.

Everything possible was done to protect the President’s reputation with one document clearly stating: "Court cases will result in public scrutiny … This is an unacceptable risk to this office and could result in political fallout that could possibly influence the principal's (President Zuma) political position very negatively."

The decision to transform a rural homestead into a “secure palace” at the taxpayer’s expense was always going to cause a furore. Despite the information that has so far been revealed, it seems that government is as adamant as ever to keep the taxpaying public out of the picture. It was recently announced that the improvements done at Nkandla have been labelled top secret which means that neither the Auditor General, Terence Nombembe, or the Public Protector, Thuli Mandonsela, have the necessary authority to view the report. Not everyone, it seems, is happy with this decision and Finance Minister, Pravin Gordham, recently stated that he hoped that the details of the spending on Nkandla would be released to the public soon.

“There are further investigative processes and from a government point of view we want to know who overcharged, to what extent and how do we recover the money. I hope my colleagues can give those facts to the public soon," he said.

It remains to be seen how much more information is going to be released. However, what has become abundantly clear is that the Nkandla scandal is not going to be allowed to be swept under the carpet. The South African public want answers and by the look of things, they are slowly, but surely getting them.

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