25 July 2024 | 11:37 AM

Nkandla: Zuma got what Zuma wanted

Key Takeaways

Public protector Thuli Madonsela’s Nkandla report has laid bare how closely President Jacob Zuma was consulted on security upgrades from the outset, and indicates that some of his requests shaped the final size and cost of the R246-million project.

He has previously sought to distance himself from the government’s decision-making processes. For example, he told news channel eNCA in February that it is not his place to question how the government handles his personal security. “No president asks that question … I can tell you sitting here, there are things that they have done that I don’t know. In fact, they will tell you [that you are] not supposed to know.”

But the public protector’s 443-page report, titled Secure in Comfort, cites many documented instances when Zuma was consulted about security features to be installed at his private residence and how his needs shaped the government’s actions.

Shortly after Zuma’s inauguration, police experts conducted a security assessment of his Nkandla homestead in May 2009.

A few months later, in August, a public works internal proposal stated that “consensus has been reached with regard to the scope of works” following “a series of presentation meetings” between public works, the security agencies, consultants and the “end user” [Zuma].

Improper charges

The scope included the relocation of families and the construction of a pool and visitors’ centre – features that Madonsela later found were improperly charged to the state.

That same month, Zuma introduced his private architect, Minenhle Makhanya, to the department of public works, which appointed him as its “principal agent” on the Nkandla project without putting it out to tender.

Madonsela has articulated how Makhanya’s dual role placed him in a conflict of interest because “he became the state’s main adviser on what it would take to meet identified security requirements while maintaining his status as the president’s architect and adviser”.

Madonsela concluded that “the placing of Mr Makhanya between the project team and President Zuma evidently shifted power from state officials to Mr Makhanya … leading to a case of ‘the [private] tail wagging the [state] dog’ “.

Although Zuma would later insist to Madonsela that he acted “only to introduce my architect to senior government officials and to appraise each other of their respective plans”, this was a key instance during the project when Zuma’s preferences were accommodated.


It resulted in a situation in which Makhanya became a go-between between Zuma and government officials working on the project.

“What is particularly disturbing in this regard is that the minutes show that Mr Makhanya was often asked to design something more economical and he would come back with something more expensive or even luxurious, and then make a submission regarding why the ‘security’ need had to be met through the more costly design,” the report said.

A sequence of documented events from mid-2011 also suggests that the Makhanya arrangement allowed Zuma to make a considerable saving on costs that were supposed to be billed to his private account.

In April 2011, the project team prepared a draft document that calculated Zuma’s portion of the projected R203-million bill to be R10.7-million.

Weekly progress meeting minutes from May and June indicate that Makhanya was toing and froing with Zuma, presenting plans to the president for the landscaping and “fire pool” – the now infamous swimming pool.

Private to public

Then, in July, another cost apportionment document put Zuma’s bill at R3-million, a reduction of R7.7‑million from the April figure. The saving was achieved by transferring the costs of the same two things Makhanya had been seeking Zuma’s inputs on – the landscaping and fire pool – from the “private” allocation to the “public” one.

Another documented instance in which Zuma intervened was to insist that the same contractors who had been working on-site during the first phase of upgrades were retained for phase two.

But phase two was essentially a different project altogether: to build 20 security staff houses plus amenities on public works-leased land adjacent to Zuma’s home.

The department was in two minds in late 2010 about how to apportion work for the “periphery contract”, and proposed possibly bringing in a new contractor.

But several documents independently confirm that Zuma had indicated that he “does not want other contractors on-site”.

This apparently led to the appointment of one of two companies that Zuma had originally appointed as his private builder – channelling the lion’s share of an extra R17.5-million into their coffers.

This article was amended to correct an error, namely that one – not two – companies Zuma had appointed to do private work got government work on the “periphery contract”.

What is known about the president’s wishes

The upgrade items for his Nkandla homestead that President Jacob Zuma requested, or gave input on, may be summarised as follows:


–​ Zuma told public protector Thuli Madonsela that “he requested the building of a larger kraal, and that he was willing to reimburse the state” (August 2013 interview).

Cost of cattle kraal, chicken run and culvert: R2.2-million.

Zuma’s lawyers tell Madonsela that he has not yet paid back anything.

– Zuma asked for the police guard occupying one of his private dwellings to move off-site (October 2009 letter from the provincial police commissioner).

Cost of police complex built off-site: R17.5-million.

– Zuma instructed the project team to complete phase two by October 2011 (reflected in a June 2011 memo).

Cost of appointing an electronic security systems supplier without going out to tender to expedite the project: R11.2-million.


– Zuma negotiated with three family members to move outside the security perimeter (June 2010 minutes).

Cost of relocation: R7.9-million.

– Architect Minenhle Makhanya has to “obtain approval” from Zuma about landscape design (May 2011 minutes).

Cost of landscaping: R7.3-million

– Makhanya presents design of “fire pool” to Zuma (May 2011).

Cost of “fire pool” complex: R2.8-million.

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The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane) produced this story. All views are ours. See www.amabhungane.co.za for our stories, activities and funding sources.

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Before joining the amaBhungane team in 2017, Micah was the national coordinator for media freedom and diversity at the Right2Know Campaign. He holds a Masters in African Studies from Oxford University and a BA Honours in History from Wits University.

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