South Africa

On/Off: Were Nkandla security systems really not functional?

By Glynnis Underhill 7 August 2015

Major-General Mondli Zuma is the head of special projects in the South African Police Service and the official selected to lead the party of government officials around Nkandla when they took the Ad Hoc Committee on Nkandla and journalists on tours three weeks ago. And it was Zuma, who is not related to the president, who informed the tour groups that the CCTV surveillance equipment in the police control room at Nkandla was not connected or functional. But contractor Elliot Magubane, who installed the CCTV equipment, firmly denies General Zuma’s claims. By GLYNNIS UNDERHILL.

A veteran of the African National Congress’s armed wing, Umkhonto weSizwe, Major-General Mondli Zuma has earned respect in both the struggle against apartheid and the police force. His career as a bodyguard made him a name among the political elite, and he was tasked with protecting two former South African presidents, Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki. 

Just two years ago, General Zuma was axed from his new post as Gauteng police commissioner by national police commissioner General Riah Phiyega, who was left red-faced when it emerged, only hours after the appointment, that he had withheld the fact that criminal charges had been filed against him and he had already appeared in court several times. Yet, after he was acquitted in court on charges of drunken driving and resisting arrest, his career has taken a surprising upswing, straight back into the centre of a new controversy.

General Zuma’s assertions that the surveillance equipment at Nkandla was not functioning appears to back Police Minister Nathi Nhleko’s argument that the president and his family are not safe at Nkandla. In his contentious report on the Nkandla security upgrades, Nhleko estimated that a further R31-million was required from the public purse to improve security at Nkandla. On top of the R246-million already spent, that is.

The contractor who installed the CCTV equipment, however, has disputed this fact, and claims it is fully functional.

Contractor Elliot Magubane, who was given a R10-million contract to purchase and install the CCTV surveillance equipment at Nkandla, was quoted disputing the claim that it was not working in a report in the Sunday Times last weekend. And he went on to provide the newspaper with photographs of the surveillance cameras and the monitors appearing to be fully operational on his last site visit in November 2014.

This week the Kempton Park businessman stuck firmly to his story when he spoke to the Daily Maverick. He said his business had suffered terribly after it was claimed that the CCTV surveillance equipment at Nkandla was not working.

Magubane claimed the security system was fully functional, and that some of the money he was owed was still overdue. “Let me put it this way to you. The system we installed, it works,” a clearly annoyed Magubane said. “I will say what I said to Sunday Times. When you guys were on site, did you press the screens to see if they were working or not?”

Unaware that only a few journalists were invited by the Presidency on the tour of Nkandla, and this reporter was not one of them, he explained why the system was not on a display unit. But it is all still up and running, he said.

Remember the entire project stopped while we were working on site, and as you can see from the published photographs, the screens are sitting on the floor. When investigations started, we had to stop everything. But it is all connected and fully functional, and there is a full CCTV camera surveillance at Nkandla when it is all plugged in.”

Unless someone had pressed the screens to check if they were running or not, he said, how could anybody come to the conclusion that the system was not working?

“The system that is there is on the floor, as we left it, it is fully functional. If the investigation had happened after we had finished, those screens would have been on a display unit. But they still are up and working,” insisted Magubane. “They are connected, they are working, they are recording. The server is connected.”

The government had received good value for money from him, he said. Most of the equipment was imported from overseas.

What General Zuma and others might have had to say about his CCTV surveillance equipment during those tours of Nkandla has been extremely bad for his business, he told the Daily Maverick.

It is killing me. Some clients phoned to say they understand, while others are not picking up our calls,” said Magubane, who expressed his overriding concern about the damage to his reputation. “The first time I heard about the accusations that the CCTV camera surveillance was not functioning is when I read about it in the newspapers. And so did my clients. How do we do business with a cloud like this hanging over us?”

Magubane issued a fresh challenge to the government to let him come and complete the CCTV camera surveillance project. “Pay me what is overdue, and maybe I can come and work for free. But the government must clear my name.”

The allegation that he had not been granted security clearance to work at Nkandla was unlikely, said the businessman, who claims he has also done security work at the Union Buildings which houses the Office of the President in Pretoria.

Nkandla needed to be secure, and the government should not be hiring a new contractor at great cost to install new CCTV surveillance equipment, said Magubane.

“The control room needs to be finished, because it is not healthy to have that equipment sitting on the floor. And I don’t know what damage has been done by power surges. If power is switched on and off, it can damage your equipment, which the government would have to replace. No maintenance had been done on the system, because when the investigation started, we were pulled off. But it would be nice to finish the job and hand over, and walk away with a smile.”

So where does the truth lie? Is what General Zuma told MPs and journalists, that the CCTV surveillance equipment was not functional, correct and true? And why were the police not operating the system in the surveillance control room? Or reporting that it was not operational? Or was the contractor Magubane not doing his job? The truth is difficult to ascertain, but one thing is certain: The sorry saga of Nkandla continues. DM

Photo of Nkandla by Bruce Hopwood.


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