The ANC easily voted down a proposal by Steve Swart from the African Christian Democratic Party that Madonsela be called to discuss her report on the R246 million upgrade of President Jacob Zuma’s rural home, in the same manner that Police Minister Nathi Nhleko was given another chance this week to walk the committee through his conflicting report. Swart argued that the ruling party had the right to differ with Madonsela’s directives, but only after engaging with her on the matter.
ANC deputy chief whip Doris Dlakude summed up the ANC’s disagreement, saying: “We all know what we saw at Nkandla and we all agree that money was stolen at Nkandla, so we don’t need to call witnesses.” A visit by the committee to Zuma’s rural home last week, saw opposition MPs agree that despite its cost, the project had fallen woefully short of providing effective security for the president.
But as in previous ad hoc committees that have dealt with the Nkandla controversy, the oppostion and the ANC deadlocked on the import of Madonsela’s damning “‘Secure in Comfort report” and the need to interrogate more witnesses, if need be Zuma. Last year, the opposition boycotted another committee set up to consider various reports on Nkandla and Zuma’s response to those, after hitting a wall on the same points.
DA chief whip John Steenhuisen said it was sad to observe that ”all political parties are retreating back into the laager”. Asked whether he regretted lending himself to the exercise this time, he said: ”No I don’t, We need to exhaust all domestic avenues otherwise we damage our chances of succeeding on review.”
Steenhuisen decribed what had transpired as a “tale of two reports”: that of Madonsela who found that Zuma had benefited unduly from the work on his property and should refund the State for luxuries, and that of Nhleko who found that all features in fact served a security purpose and therefore Zuma did not have to pay back a cent.
“This is a sore on the political body of South Africa. It bedevills everything else we do,” he warned.
After further debate about the powers of the Public Protector and the impact of the Schippers judgment on these, the ANC resolved that the committee would begin drafting its final report to hand to the National Assembly, where Nhleko’s findings are likely to be endorsed. The minister is on record as hoping that his report would prove the final word on a chapter that has haunted Zuma for years.
ANC veteran Mathole Motshekga accused Madonsela of misleading the nation and the opposition of disrespecting the courts by twisting Judge Ashton Schippers’s judgment to suit their own ends.
“The report of the Public Protector is misleading and misled the nation. It was clear: we were not at or in an amphitheatre. So whatever she said about an amphitheatre falls away, and we went to the pool … and there is nobody who could say the use of the water is irrational or illogical,” he said, referring to the visit to contested features at Zuma’s home.
Motshekga reiterated that the project had entailed a large-scale waste of public funds, but said this could not be laid at the president’s door. “Deal with the people who built the kraal, not the person for whom the kraal was built. Why even mention the president?” he asked.
Agang-SA’s Andries Tlouamma said Madonsela was being sacrificed in a whitewash and the arguments advanced by ANC MPs in that process were so illogical that they seemed the stuff of “witchcraft”.
“It seems that the ruling party is hell-bent that our president survives this one as well…. I am very worried that by participating here I am actually helping in serving the Public Protector’s head on a platter, she is being sacrificed here.”
Last year, opposition parties walked out of the ad hoc committee dealing with various reports on Nkandla and Zuma’s response to those, mainly in protest at the ruling party’s refusal to agree that the Public Protector’s reports were binding on the executive, or at least solicit independent legal opinion on their status.
It has become a burning political issue, underscored by Schippers himself in a recent judgment in the SABC case in which he granted the public broadcaster leave to appeal, noting that it had little chance of success but that it was imperative that the Supreme Court of Appeal pronounce on the weight of the Public Protector’s findings.