20 March 2014

South Africa: Nkandla Report Triggers Front-Page Comments

South Africa's public ombudsman says some of the $23 million taxpayer-funded refurbishments at President Jacob Zuma's luxurious residence were ... ( Resource: Zuma Must Repay 'Unlawful, Excessive' Home Renovations

Pretoria — Editorial comment in Thursday's newspapers ranged from Afrikaans daily Beeld calling President Jacob Zuma a "national scandal", to the Gupta-owned The New Age questioning the roles of other "key staff in the presidency".

Generally, newspapers called for accountability from the presidency, as the public protector's report on Zuma's costly Nkandla upgrades made front-page news all round.

Beeld published a page one editorial, saying Zuma was no longer qualified to lead the country after Thuli Madonsela found that he and his family unduly benefited from upgrades to his private residence in Nkandla, KwaZulu-Natal.

"He wastes valuable taxpayer money and cannot be trusted to continue governing the country. Zuma is a national scandal," said Beeld.

The weekly Mail&Guardian wrote a comment headlined "Stop protecting Number One".

It described Nkandla as a "monument to squandered resources and a symbol of everything that is wrong with South Africa under Zuma".

"The ANC took a momentous decision in September 2008 when it 'recalled' a president [Thabo Mbeki]. Today, the ANC could do the same -- or at least ensure Zuma is not the party's presidential candidate in May and spare the country impeachment proceedings."

The Daily Sun also posted front-page comment, describing Zuma as "the president who didn't know".

"But it's incredible, if you think about it, how many things President Zuma just never knows about. He is always the president who didn't know...

"So what we want to know is what is he going to do about the Madonsela report -- besides pretending he doesn't know about it?" asked the Daily Sun.

Madonsela released the Nkandla report on Wednesday, saying Zuma should have asked questions about the scale, costs, and affordability of security upgrades which could end up being as much as R240 million.

She said the excessive amount spent by government was unconscionable and recommended that he pay back a percentage of the cost.

The Star said Zuma had failed in his responsibility as president to be the ultimate guardian of the country's resources.

"We now know the truth. We wonder how the ANC government will justify spending R246 million in one man's yard, breaking rules and laws, while much of society wallows in poverty," The Star said on its opinion page.

"The putrid stench must stop. Prosaic proclamations of intentions investigate are insufficient. Heads must roll. Now."

The Sowetan newspaper asked "Is this what they fought for?"

"Is this what the ANC founders had in mind when they met over a century ago?...

"When Zuma joined the delegation of ANC leaders in exile to broker a peaceful transitional arrangement from apartheid to democracy, did he have this in mind?" asked the Sowetan.

Business Day criticised the "absurd piece of spin" by Justice Minister Jeff Radebe, who said it was all necessary security upgrades, including the "cattle kraal and culvert, fire pool and water reservoir".

"...it was intriguing, and significant, that Radebe's response yesterday [Wednesday] was to try to own the public protector's report, rather than to challenge it.

"That the government feels the need to manage the fallout is a reflection of how hard the Nkandla saga has hit sentiment within its own support base..."

The business daily called on Zuma to repay the money.

"The story serves to remind us, simply, that we have a president who, at best, has very poor judgement."

The New Age newspaper said this showed it was "time to halt collusion".

The daily did not mention Zuma by name in its editorial comment, rather focusing on the public works department and its minister Thulas Nxesi.

The first security assessment at Nkandla was done in May 2009. In November 2010, then public works minister Geoff Doidge was fired and replaced by Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde, who assured Zuma that the Nkandla project was still underway when she took office. Nxesi became public works minister in 2011.

"Mistakes made by the department of public works must be examined...

"One must also call into question the roles of key staff in the presidency. Surely they are there to ensure that the integrity of the president is not compromised by under-performing ministries who seem to have no idea of what is happening in their own departments?

"Nkandla has presented us with a lens through which we can see a broader picture of what needs to fixed urgently," concluded The New Age.

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InFocus

S. Africa: Govt, Media React to Public Protector's Report

Despite negative media reaction, government and opposition parties have welcomed the Public Protector's report of security upgrades made to President Jacob Zuma's private Nkandla ... Read more »