It’s Guptagate all over again. The heads have started rolling, some more quietly and less aggressively than others. This is in the aftermath of the Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela’s Nkandla report which was presented on Wednesday in Pretoria. This is a report into the ‘security upgrades’ to President Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla homestead in his KwaZulu Natal home area. The Public Protector’s findings were that the president and his family benefited from these upgrades and he should pay back a sizable portion of the more than R246 million which was the conservative final cost of these upgrades.
While the ANC quickly responded through its various arm. Its spin doctor, Mr. Gwede Mantashe rubbished the report by calling it an attempt to ‘muddy the election waters’. The Women’s League of the party said it was much ado about nothing as the inter ministerial report had come up with the same findings, that is, no state funds were used to build the Zuma dwellings. Never the charcters to take anything in half measures, the Youth League of the ruling party quickly requested the resignation of the South African Ombudsman. Then followed the drama of the opposition parties and individual pressing charges against President Zuma for corruption and the misuse of public funds among other things. While it is problematic for anyone to receive an adverse report of any kind, it is many times worse for a man in Jacob Zuma’s position, a position of trust in which it is being implied that he was less than trustworthy. Add to this the fact that it is not only an election year, but, for all intents and purposes, we are in the election month! This scenario is no doubt a cauldron of disaster and political survival. If we add to this simmering and fermenting mixture the fact that this will be the most hotly contested election since the collapse of apartheid, then it will be easy to understand the goings on in the ruling party at this juncture.
According to media reports, President Jacob Zuma will appear before his party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) sometime this week for the first time since the Public Protector released her report. Given different scenarios and different stakes, this could have been another Mbeki saga for Zuma. However, Zuma does not have that kind of fear this time around. There is no risk of him being ‘recalled’ because, for starters, it is too late to meddle with the delicate leadership structure at this point in the electoral race. It is important for the top decision making body of the party to present a united front to their swaying followers. The other reason why Zuma will most likely be sleeping like a baby is that, according to unnamed sources within the NEC, there won’t be anyone willing to give prominence to Madonsela’s investigation over the one presented by the inter-ministerial committee. As the sources say, there is most likely to be no rebellion against Zuma at the meeting. However, due to the prominence that the Public Protector’s report has been accorded in the local and international media, the top decision making body of the party will need to come up with a position on the issue. Somebody needs to be held accountable for the mess that is now Nkandla. It is this process of apportioning accountability that will be interesting to watch unfold. In fact, it is interesting to note that the jostling for positions of safety has already started unfolding.
It is important to backtrack a few months here. At the time when the ‘upgrades’ were being made, the ministry that was responsible for the whole project was that of the Public Works Department (PWD) which was headed by the honorable minister Geoff Doidge, who is now an ambassador, with Hendrietta Bogopane-Zulu as his deputy. In clarifying the chain of responsibility for the security upgrades at Nkandla, the current minister of public works had this to say:
‘It is important to understand this process because this is where ultimate responsibility of the upgrades lies. It is the responsibility of the department of public works to implement the recommendations of the security cluster and to monitor the cost of the project in line with Cabinet Policy. Attempts to lay the responsibility of the upgrade at the door of the president are misdirected.’
To add to this, the inter ministerial report also found that there were many irregularities in the appointment of contractors as well as in the procurement of goods.
If there is any indication of how the thinking in the high echelons of the ANC, this should be it. However, as an indication that the responsibility for Nkandla bungling will surely go to the ambassador and his deputy, there are reports in the media that he plans to sue the Public Protector because he is bitterly disappointed at not being interviewed and that he was not given enough time to read the preliminary report. In her report, Madonsela found that he did not take enough decisive steps to curb excessive spending on the project. She adds that she did not find his actions ill intentioned. One wonders then where the lawsuit is emanating from. Is it really the action of somebody aggrieved or is it just the jostling of somebody trying to ensure that their head is not the one that rolls? As we always say, only time will tell.