The Police Minister’s Nkandla report, Nkosinathi Nhleko reminded journalists several times on Thursday, was not required to investigate very much. It was not required to investigate the “scope creep” of the Nkandla upgrade project, or problems in the supply chain management, or the inflated cost of individual items. It would simply look at four areas: whether the kraal, amphitheatre, pool and visitor centre built at Nkandla could be classed as security features, or whether the President improperly benefited from their installation.
The report has found that all four features were legitimately necessary to install for security reasons.
Arguably the most contentious of them was the fire pool, and/or swimming pool. Presenting the report, Nhleko showed previously unseen pictures of the pool – which looks exactly like a swimming pool. He explained, however, that Nkandla is a massive fire hazard. There are huts built very close to each other with thatched roofs. Firefighting capability, therefore, must be on site.
Nhleko’s report quotes the fire and rescue manager of the local municipality as advising that “nothing could be better”, for the purposes of fighting a fire in Nkandla, than a pool or a dam. The existing fire hydrants and hoses and Nkandla have poor water pressure.
At this point, Nhleko treated those watching his press briefing to a short film: “a fire pool demonstration” video, with a stirring soundtrack. It showed an experiment being undertaken whereby the local fire station was phoned with a report of a fire at the President’s house. The firefighters took over an hour to arrive, and when they did, their equipment was clearly not up to the imaginary job.
This shoddy municipal service may be good enough for the locals of Nkandla, but not for the President. Enter the fire pool. A suction pump deploys water from the pool to fire hoses in time of need, and can also be used to re-fill the fire truck.
The pool is not just important to security. It is the most important. That’s what the report says: “The swimming pool…is the most important security feature”.
It is confirmed that the pool’s other function is as a normal swimming pool – for “recreational [use] within the homestead”, as plans drawn up in 2011 specified. When Nhleko was asked whether children from the local community had been able to make use of the pool to swim in, he replied that he didn’t know.
Next: the kraal, and/or animal enclosure. The discussion of the kraal warranted the showing of a video featuring a talking head explaining the “significant spiritual and cultural value” of the kraal. The new construction is not a kraal, however, but an animal enclosure. This was necessary because animals needed to be kept outside the main security zone. Allowing animals to roam freely would have triggered continuous false alarms from the alarm system. Free-roaming chicken needed to be confined to a chicken run.
It was necessary to construct a visitors’ centre, the report explains, because although Nkandla is a private residence rather than an official one, President Zuma still meets dignitaries there sometimes. For this reason, he needed a “conducive and appropriate security environment”.
In addition, members of the local community are constantly stopping by to petition the President about various things. The visitors’ centre is “key to ensuring security control, which includes people movement and control”.
Nhleko’s explanation of the amphitheatre kicked off with the reading of the Wikipedia entry for “amphitheatre”, and the display of a photograph of a typical amphitheatre, taken in Canada. This was by way of drawing the distinction between an actual amphitheatre and the Nkandla non-amphitheatre.
What the Public Protector’s report wrongly identified as an amphitheatre was actually a tiered set of “soil retention walls”, with an emergency assembly point at the bottom. The soil retention walls are necessary because Nkandla land is tilted, and more susceptible to flooding during storms. The emergency assembly point is where homestead residents will come together in time of threat, and where police and other security forces can also be gathered for briefings.
Nhleko pointed out that on the “amphitheatre seating”, aloes were planted. “It would be unimaginable that people would be seated in an aloe garden with irrigation system,” he said. Showing another picture: “Clearly the picture on the right does not resemble an entertainment area”.
“It looks just like the one at the Waterfront,” a mischievous journalist whispered.
So all four “questionable” features are “security features which are in accordance with the physical security requirements and/or interest”.
The fire pool? A strategic asset useful in firefighting, and therefore a security feature.
The animal enclosure? Keeps livestock away from the security infrastructure, and as such is a security feature.
The so-called amphitheatre? Serves a clear security purpose as an emergency assembly point.
The visitors’ centre? Has to cater for the security imperatives of the President’s distinguished guests.
Here’s the thing: the report, and its presentation, has revealed a hell of a lot to the South African public about how security works at Nkandla and the general lay of the land. As such – brace yourselves – there is an “urgent need for a new security evaluation to be conducted at the President’s residence in Nkandla”.
The revealing of security details in the report constitutes an “unprecedented exposure of a President’s security detail”. The next step will be to change and upgrade that security – again at public expense.
If you’re feeling sorry for yourself as a taxpayer, don’t be. The real victim in all of this is the President. “The extent of the investigations as well as the intrusion into the private residence has resulted in a violation of his rights,” the report finds.
There were, as one might imagine, some questions from journalists once Nhleko had finished reading his report. Prominent among them: what is the relationship of this Nkandla report to that produced by the Public Protector? After all, the two contradict each other: the Public Protector’s report found that the President was financially liable for features he had improperly benefited from. Which report should be given precedence?
“This report is not necessarily positioned in relation to other reports,” Nhleko replied, and later stated more strongly that the report should not be considered in relation to other reports. There is no hierarchy of reports, Nhleko said: this report was commissioned by Parliament, and has now been returned to Parliament to be scrutinized and discussed.
Is there any possibility that the Nkandla report could be truly independent, when Nhleko was effectively directed to investigate his boss? Nhleko professed surprise at the suggestion. “I don’t feel conflicted at all,” he said, and warned against falling into a “personality cult when it comes to issues of governance”.
A journalist for the Independent group who asked outright whether the ministers really thought “South Africans were so stupid” was chastised for being unprofessional and “disrespectful of the process”.
On the other side of Parliament, one group of people seemed pretty upbeat – for the DA and other opposition parties, the report is something of a political gift. The DA’s chief whip John Steenhuisen slammed the report for “methodology a Matric student would use”. New leader Mmusi Maimane asked: “Is a fire pool the best way of fighting fire in a rural community?”
Maimane also commented that he was “quite surprised at how jovial the President was yesterday”, but that it all made sense having read the report.
The DA’s legal team is currently going over the report to consider whether there may be the possibility of challenging it in court. The EFF, meanwhile, has made it clear that they won’t be shutting up about Nkandla any time soon.
“The Public Protector said Jacob Zuma must pay back the money and for as long as this is not happening, the EFF will use every opportunity in Parliament to demand that Zuma must Pay Back the Money,” the Fighters said. DM
Photo: President Jacob Zuma’s residence in Nkandla in KwaZulu-Natal on Sunday, 4 November 2012. Picture: Giordano Stolley/SAPA
"Don't gobblefunk around with words." ~ Roald Dahl