South Africa

ANC’s tactical manoeuvre: Navigate the Nkandla minefield, cushion Zuma

By Ranjeni Munusamy 4 December 2013

Take one flaming hot potato and throw it back at public protector Thuli Madonsela. That appears to be the sum total of the ANC’s response to dealing with the raging controversy around the upgrade of President Jacob Zuma’s private estate at Nkandla. The ANC is desperate to communicate that it is not party to any cover-up on the Nkandla matter and has therefore called for the speedy release of Madonsela’s investigation report as well as government’s full task team report on the security upgrades. But when it comes to demanding answers from the one person who can provide his organisation with all the details of the renovations at his Nkandla home, the ANC is rather coy. Deliberately so. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.

The ANC could obviously not wait for another week to go by until its national executive committee (NEC) meeting this weekend and let the Nkandla issue fester any longer. The publishing of details of the public protector’s provisional report in the Mail & Guardian last week has resulted in public bewilderment and anger at the magnitude of the splurging of state funds and caused a backlash for the ANC. It’s election campaign is already in full swing and negative sentiment is mounting against President Jacob Zuma as a result of the personal benefit he derived from the Nkandla upgrade.

In the past few days, the South African Communist Party and ANC Youth League national task team both launched broadsides at the office of the public protector over leaks from her office. However, these were hardly sufficient to counter the wave of negative publicity, nationally and internationally, over the details of Nkandla renovations at state expense.

And the details are indeed sensational. The Mail & Guardian reported that the public protector’s provisional report states that costs escalated from an initial R27 million to R215 million, with a further R31 million in works outstanding. This included a swimming pool and basement parking at a cost of R2.8 million; a visitor’s centre at a cost of R6.7 million, as well as an amphitheatre, a cattle kraal and a chicken coop.

The ANC’s only option to firefight the issue was to turn the heat elsewhere and try to extricate its leader from flaming culpability. So it rolled out the heavy hitters, ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe and his deputy Jessie Duarte, to address the media. Mantashe said the ANC’s top six officials – Zuma, deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa, chairwoman Baleka Mbete, treasurer Zweli Mkhize plus him and Duarte – met on Sunday and Monday to discuss preparations for the upcoming NEC and national list conference and also discussed the Nkandla matter.

So just to clarify, Zuma was in this meeting with the other senior-most leaders of the ANC when they discussed the Nkandla upgrades. Mantashe said these six leaders were concerned by the regularity with which provisional reports from Madonsela’s office are leaked “following a pattern of public engagements and public utterances by the public protector on investigations by her office before they are finalised”.

“This in our view is a deliberate and misleading casting of aspersion on those being investigated, in this instance the president of the ANC,” Mantashe said.

The ANC is now demanding that Madonsela release her final report “as a matter of extreme urgency”. “If the Public Protector keeps the report back until the eve of the elections, we will know that she is playing a political game,” Mantashe said.

This statement is bizarre in light of the fact that it has been Madonsela who has been a stickler to the timeline to get the report released publicly as soon as possible. However, the guns were out for Madonsela and the ANC blamed her office for leaking sensational extracts prematurely.

Duarte said the ANC had noticed a pattern of leaks from the public protector’s office and also accused her of “enticing debate” and “hyping public sentiment” about issues she was investigating. When asked what proof the ANC had that the leaks came from Madonsela’s office, Duarte said the public protector’s media statement about new measures she was putting in place to mitigate leaks was an inadvertent admission that they came from her office.

And there was even a suggestion that Madonsela herself might be culpable. “When something like that is leaked, you go ballistic. You don’t make polite statements. The Public Protector seemed a bit comfortable with the fact that it was leaked,” Duarte said.

The ANC also wants the inter-ministerial task team appointed by Cabinet to release their full report into the security upgrades at Nkandla. The task team had only released their findings after the report was classified as “top secret” by the Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi.

The reason why the ANC wants the government to release its full report was because they wanted to “compare notes”. “They may come to different determinations, Mantashe said. He said the party did not want to comment on the upgrades until it had all the facts.

“The ANC instructs government to make available to the public all the experts who decided and designed all elements of the security features at Nkandla. These experts must explain their decisions and designs in the public domain. This must be done to ensure that all and any queries that the public may have with regard to these particular issues are tabled and responded to exhaustively,” Mantashe said.

It’s a clever strategy by the ANC to shift blame to the contractors and to use the inter-ministerial task team report to mitigate the public protector’s report. Since the government report put the blame on low-ranking officials and those who worked on the project, it would come in handy to counter any findings by Madonsela that held the homeowner responsible. Since the leaked provisional report allegedly stated that Zuma should repay the state for all unnecessary expenditure, the ANC needs something else in hand to defend him and shift the blame to someone else.

The ANC also announced a series of questions it wants the public protector to answer. These include whether Zuma “requested” any security upgrades at his homestead, whether it was him who spent more than R200 million of state money on the renovations, and if Zuma had asked that a swimming pool and a kraal be built, and that his wife’s tuck shop be moved from its original position.

“If not, who made those decisions and who is accountable?” the ANC wants to know from Madonsela.

Again we remind you that Zuma was sitting in this meeting which decided to ask the public protector these questions. Apparently nobody there thought to ask him those questions. When asked why this was, Mantashe said Zuma had not conducted any investigation into the upgrades so there was no need to ask him about it.

Asked also what action the ANC would take if it were found that its president lied to Parliament that he and his family paid for the renovations, Mantashe said there was no evidence before the ANC that anybody had lied. He said he would need to be “prophetic” to able speculate what would happen if this was shown to be the case.

Mantashe said the Nkandla matter would not be discussed at the NEC this weekend and will only be tackled when all the reports were released. It will take a brave person to raise the matter in an NEC meeting when it Nkandla not on the agenda. Besides, anyone vaguely critical of Zuma was flushed out of the committee at the ANC’s Mangaung conference, and the NEC is now crammed with Zuma acolytes.

From the answers given and the ANC’s obvious reluctance to interrogate Zuma on the state-sponsored upgrades to his home, it is clear that the prospect of the president being held in any way accountable by his organisation is nil.

According to ANC insiders, Zuma is angry that pictures and details of his home have been splashed in the media again following the leak of the public protector’s provisional report.

But he should be quite comfortable in the knowledge that the ANC is rallying behind him and will close ranks on the issue. If the ANC takes no action against the president, nobody else can. The ANC holds the majority in Parliament, the only body which can penalise him. Unless something dramatic happens at the polls next year, that will continue to be the case for Zuma’s second term as state president.

And then he will retire and live happily ever after in a palatial estate on the hillside. DM

Photo: ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe holds a news conference in Johannesburg on Monday, 22 July 2013. Picture: Werner Beukes/SAPA

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