5 December 2013

South Africa: Cabinet Orders Release of Separate Nkandla Report

Photo: G Stolley/SAPA
President Jacob Zuma's residence in Nkandla in KwaZulu-Natal (file photo).

Cape Town — Cabinet has ordered the release of an inter-ministerial task team's initially top secret report on the Nkandla controversy that appears to clear President Jacob Zuma of political scandal.

The decision was announced on Thursday after an attack by the African National Congress on Public Protector Thuli Madonsela about the timing of her own report on construction work at Zuma's private homestead in rural KwaZulu-Natal.

"Cabinet deliberated on the presentation by the minister of public works on the inter-ministerial task team report on the security upgrades at the president's Nkandla houses," Cabinet said in a statement following its fortnightly meeting on Wednesday.

"Cabinet endorsed the recommendations and directed that the report be released to the public."

It is expected that the report will be released next week, when the security cluster holds a media briefing, but with sections that refer to security arrangements at the president's compound excised.

Earlier this year, Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi classified the report, saying it would put Zuma's safety at risk if released.

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga told a post-Cabinet media briefing the surprise decision to release the document would balance "transparency and security" by making public the substance of the findings, but withholding areas that relate directly to safety measures.

A parliamentary committee's findings on the report indicated that it exculpated Zuma, finding no evidence that taxpayers' money had been used to pay for his private home -- as he has insisted in statements to the National Assembly.

Last week, the Mail & Guardian reported that Madonsela had found in her preliminary report that the president had misled Parliament, and had benefited substantially from about R20 million worth of work that had nothing to do with security features, including a swimming pool.

The story led to the ANC accusing Madonsela of leaking the report and pressing her to release the final version urgently, or be accused of playing politics if it emerged too close to next year's general elections.

Madonsela had already condemned the leak.

On Wednesday, she reiterated that she planned to release her final report by mid-January at the latest, months before the country goes to the polls.

In November last year, Nxesi and his colleagues in the security cluster set up the inter-ministerial task team to probe construction at Nkandla, following an outcry over the cost -- more than R206 million -- of the upgrades.

The team's report was referred to Parliament's joint standing committee on intelligence for consideration in June.

The committee, which meets behind closed doors, said last month there was a "misunderstanding" about Nkandla, largely because people failed to make a distinction between the state-owned land and the property of the president.

The task team recommended that the allocation of tenders and appointment of contractors to the special project be referred to the auditor general for investigation.

The Democratic Alliance has dismissed the report as a "white-wash" and threatened to have Zuma impeached if Madonsela's final report confirmed the findings aired in the media last week.

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