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'Nkandla of national importance'

Legal experts have warned that Thuli Madonsela’s Nkandla report can't be ignored by Parliament.

President Jacob Zuma's Nkandla homestead. Picture: City Press.

JOHANNESBURG - Legal experts are warning that Public Protector Thuli Madonsela's Nkandla report is a matter of national importance and something that Parliament cannot ignore.

The Institute for Security Studies (ISS) says Parliament has a constitutional duty to act.

It's been over two weeks since Madonsela released her findings on massive over-spending at Zuma's Nkandla home.

In the document released on 19 March, the protector found the president benefitted from the R246 million upgrades to his private KwaZulu-Natal home and violated the executive ethics code.

EWN Video: Thuli Madonsela releases her Nkandla report.

Madonsela ordered Zuma to pay back a portion of the money spent on non-security upgrades.

The ISS's Judith February says Parliament has no choice but to act.

"Parliament has a Constitutional duty to deal with the president's response. It's a matter of national importance."

Nkandla has become a burning issue in the run-up to the 7 May elections but February says it's about more than party politics.

"This is most certainly a Constitutional issue. The public protector made very serious findings of maladministration against members of the executive and the president himself."

February says now that the report is before Parliament, it must be dealt with or it will fail in its duty to the people of this country.

Zuma has told Parliament he's waiting for a report from the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) before he responds fully to Madonsela's findings.

The president has said he wants to wait because of differences between Madonsela's probe and that of the inter-ministerial committee.

But the SIU won't complete its probe until after next month's elections.

SIU head Vas Soni has denied allegations that his team has endured political interference.

Soni says Madonsela has written to him, asking the SIU to follow up on certain aspects of the Nkandla project which her investigators were unable to pursue.

"Those are matters we are doing, not only because she has asked, but because they are procurement related matters. To that extent, there is a synergy between some of the matters relating to procurement."

Meanwhile, the SIU on Thursday said it was "deeply embarrassed" by what it labelled a website error relating to its Nkandla investigation.

On the same day that Zuma announced he would await the SIU report before responding, the unit's website changed the status of the probe from 'completed' to 'ongoing'.

Soni said it was a negligent but genuine mistake and said the SIU has an email trail showing how the mistake crept in.

Read the SIU's full statement on the 'website error'.

Meanwhile, the South African Revenue Service has given the Democratic Alliance (DA) written assurance that Zuma won't escape paying any tax he may owe on improvements to his Nkandla home.

The party claims that the president could face a bill of R16,8 million, which would be fringe benefits tax on features at Nkandla that are not related to security, including the swimming pool and cattle kraal.

The DA's Tim Harris said, "It shows they won't be treating the president any different from any South African when they look at his tax affairs. The president needs to pay the tax he owes and the DA will ensure this happens."

A 2010 aerial view of Nkandla taken off Google Earth.

The latest aerial view of Nkandla taken in August 2013 which was taken by an aerial mapping company using a hi-tech, high-altitude mapping aircraft.

NKANDLA SMS JUDGMENT DUE

Judgment is expected this morning in a battle between the African National Congress (ANC) and the DA over a controversial Nkandla SMS which was sent by the DA to around 1,5 million people ahead of next month's elections.

The message accused the president of stealing money from the public to fund upgrades at Nkandla.

The DA is standing by the message, saying what happened at Nkandla constitutes theft.

Standing on the steps of the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg on Wednesday, both parties announced they were confident of victory.

The ruling party argued that Madonsela's report never found that Zuma stole anything.

It used an analogy, saying if you're going to accuse someone of being a murderer, makes sure he's been convicted.

But the DA fought back, saying a so-called reasonable man would read Madonsela's report and conclude that Zuma did in fact steal public money.

The party also argued it enjoys freedom of speech even during an election, adding that South African politicians need to have thick skins.

Meanwhile, DA Parliamentary Leader Lindiwe Mazibuko said yesterday that Zuma is using the SIU probe into Nkandla as a delaying tactic.

"The reality is that Zuma is trying to run away from accountability on this issue and he is trying to delay having to explain his actions to South Africa until after the elections on 7 May."

She said the DA is seeking legal opinion on whether Zuma can be compelled to abide by the protector's recommendations.

Mazibuko said nothing is stopping National Assembly Speaker Max Sisulu from setting up an ad-hoc committee to investigate.