13 April 2024 | 02:19 AM

Number One’s reactions: Evasive, petulant, aggressive

Key Takeaways

President Jacob Zuma ducked the difficult questions put to him by public protector Thuli Madonsela for more than a year, and then turned around at the last minute and accused her of conducting an “unfair” and “tainted” investigation.

Madonsela’s report, released last week, details how Zuma’s reactions shifted from evasion to petulance during her two-year investigation into the R246-million security-related upgrade at his Nkandla home.

Madonsela wrote to the president in January last year, informing him that she was investigating public complaints about the upgrades.

When she received no response, she followed up her initial correspondence four times without success before she finally managed to get an audience with him in August.

Madonsela handed Zuma a written list of 29 questions at the meeting. He responded six weeks later with a lengthy general statement in which, she says, “he denied that he was ever apprised of the fact that his conduct formed part of my investigation”.


He avoided responding to specific questions about what he knew and when he knew about certain things, and explained the broad outlines of the security upgrades that took place.

He aimed a broadside at what he considered to be discrimination inherent in the questions Madonsela had posed: “I take exception to the continued conflation of the security upgrades with the construction of buildings for the benefit of security personnel. Whilst neither were at my behest, the latter is directly attributable to the fact of my residence being located in a rural area with all the attendant challenges.

“Even people drawn from rural communities can play a role in the development of our constitutional democracy.”

Madonsela replied, listing the 18 questions that Zuma had ignored. “I never received a further response from the president to the questions posed to him,” her report concludes.

But there was one more twist. On receipt of Madonsela’s provisional report in January this year, Zuma played the victim.


To Madonsela’s astonishment, he repeated his claim of having been blindsided by her investigation, despite a paper trail to the contrary going back 12 months.

He wrote: “At no stage have I been apprised of the fact that my conduct forms part of any investigation, either by the public protector or any other institution, and my statement is framed in the light of my appreciation.

“It now appears apparent that unbeknown to me, my conduct, ethical and otherwise, in fact forms part of the public protector’s investigation.”

Despite his failure to answer questions sent to him months before, Zuma attacked the provisional report for being “tainted by a lack of proper procedure” and “not applying the rules of natural justice”.

Madonsela was nonplussed: “In my respectful view, the president’s concerns have no basis in fact or law.”

The 18 questions on Nkandla that Zuma never answered

  • Whether he or the Presidency requested that security measures be installed at his private residence;
  • Whether he was at any stage informed of the cost of the proposed security measures;
  • Whether a notice declaring his private residence a National Key Point was served on him;
  • What he understood to be his responsibilities as the owner of a National Key Point;
  • What measures he took to secure his private residence as required by the National Key Points Act;
  • Whether he was advised that some of the cost of securing his private residence as a National Key Point would be recovered from him;
  • Whether he was presented by Mr Makhanya with the designs of the project;
  • Whether he received the letter consisting of a detailed report on the progress made with the project that was addressed to him by former Minister Mahlangu-Nkabinde on 5 November 2010;
  • Whether he received the document setting out the apportionment of cost for the project that was prepared by the Department of Public Works;
  • Whether Deputy Minister Bogopane-Zulu discussed the conversion of the fire-pool to a swimming pool with him and whether he was aware of the reasons for this conversion;
  • Whether he was consulted about the relocation of the households that were affected by the implementation of the project;
  • Whether he was opposed to more contractors working on the site during phase 2 of the project;
  • Whether Deputy-Minister Bogopane-Zulu discussed the design of the Military Clinic with him;
  • Whether he would be willing to disclose the amount that he paid for the construction of the new dwellings on his property;
  • How often he uses his private residence for official business;
  • Why he would prefer using his private residence for official business rather than one of the official residences available to him;
  • Whether he at any stage enquired into the cost of the project; and
  • If not, whether he as the head of state did not feel obliged to do so as a substantial amount of public money was obviously being spent.

It is the story that would define a presidency. Phillip de Wet pulls together four years of reporting about Nkandla into a compelling e-book, now available for $2.99 from Amazon.com and authorised Paperight outlets.

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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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