Nkandla ad hoc committee: ANC’s Operation 'Get Thuli'

If you thought the latest Nkandla parliamentary ad hoc committee was about whether President Jacob Zuma should pay back the money, you were very wrong. It may have appeared that the committee was set up to consider Police Minister Nkosinathi Nhleko's report on whether the president benefitted unduly from the Nkandla upgrades, but the end result is very different. The first outcome of this process was to lay the foundation to authorise that more taxpayers' money be spent on upgrading security at the president's private home. The second was to allow ANC members to maul Public Protector Thuli Madonsela in an effort to discredit her report and findings. Madonsela, the ANC would have us believe, is the chief villain who wronged the president and misled the public.

You have to wonder why the ANC is so afraid to call Public Protector Thuli Madonsela before the parliamentary ad hoc committee on Nkandla. What do they think she would do? Shed more information she has been holding back on? Because she definitely has some. Dig in her heels on issues she was lenient on in her report? This includes that President Jacob Zuma might have lied to Parliament when he said that his family had built their own houses and the state had not built any for them or benefitted them.

In her report "Secure In Comfort", Madonsela said "While his conduct could accordingly be legitimately construed as misleading Parliament, it appears to have been a bona fide mistake and I am accordingly unable to find that his conduct was in violation of paragraph 2 of the Executive Ethics Code." Does the ANC think she would backpedal on this now? Lying to Parliament is in fact an impeachable offence, which is perhaps why Madonsela tread carefully on this issue in her report.

Perhaps the ANC is afraid that Madonsela would simply win more public favour by explaining her investigation, findings and recommendations, and undermine the grand cover-up they have going.

The ad hoc committee's visit to Nkandla revealed the shoddy workmanship and extreme price escalation on the project. It also entrenched the divisions between the ANC and opposition parties in terms of their perspectives. The ANC continues to argue that the president was an innocent bystander who had absolutely no knowledge of what was going on at his homestead and no powers or ability to question the upgrades or the costs. Most of the opposition parties concur that the quality of work was shockingly bad and that some of the upgrades were unnecessary and cannot be considered to be security related.

The swimming pool remains a source of division about whether it is a leisure feature or fire fighting mechanism. One of the new points of contention is whether Police Minister Nkosinathi Nhleko's conclusion that more money should be spent to complete work and install better security features be supported. ANC MPs have expressed themselves in various stages of horror and anguish that Zuma's security has been severely compromised, both by bad workmanship and the investigation into the project.

Opposition parties believe that more than enough taxpayers' money has already been spent and that funds should be recouped from those who benefitted from improper processes, cost inflation and incomplete work.

Nhleko and Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi appeared before the committee on Wednesday to explain their respective departments' involvement in the project and what their investigations found. The battle on Thursday shifted to whom else should be called before the committee. ANC MPs took turns to shoot down arguments by opposition MPs that Madonsela be called, saying they did not need to hear from her and her report was in any event "unsound".

The onslaught on Madonsela began the day before with ANC MP Mmamoloko Kubayi saying the public protector should not be called because she retweeted a Daily Maverick column by constitutional expert Pierre de Vos about why the ad hoc committee was irrelevant.

_City Press _reported that Kubayi said by retweeting De Vos' article, Madonsela proved that she held similar views about the existence of the ad hoc committee. "On that basis, chair, I will not sit here and listen to her," Kubayi said.

Another ANC MP Thandi Mahambehlala condemned Madonsela for "governing herself" and for presenting her report to the media rather than to Parliament. "She is supreme!" Mahambehlala said. She repeated the sentiments on Thursday, saying Madonsela decided to report to the public not the institution she was meant to report to.

Other ANC MPs echoed this criticism, saying Madonsela presented the media with the report before the elections last year and also commented on the issue before the State of the Nation Address in February.

Kubayi also reinforced her condemnation of Madonsela saying "fundamental issues in the public protector's report were incoherent with what we have seen". "We can come to the conclusion that the report was not sound," she said.

Her colleague Mathole Motshekga condemned Madonsela for calling the terraced area an amphitheater. On the swimming pool, Motshekga said no one could argue that the intended purpose to extinguish fires was "illogical or irrational". "We should not, and cannot, apologise when we say the report of the public protector is misleading and has misled the nation," he said.

The synchronised attack on Madonsela led Agang SA parliamentary leader Andries Tlouamma to remark that ANC MPs appeared to be bewitched in the way they were hellbent on protecting Zuma.

It is bizarre that none of the ANC MPs were willing to confront Madonsela directly with these accusations. Surely if they were so convinced that her report was erroneous, it would give them great satisfaction to make her recant her findings. But no amount of arguing by opposition MPs would make them budge. The paranoia was so high that one ANC MP suggested that some opposition members were getting SMSes from the people they wanted to appear before the committee. The obvious suggestion was that there was collusion between the opposition and Madonsela.

The ANC used their majority to vote down a proposal to call Madonsela, as well as a proposal by Freedom Front Plus MP Corné Mulder to call other players such as the architect Minenhle Makhanya, project manager Jean Rindel and former Public Works Minister Geoff Doidge. The opposition also wanted to call Senior Superintendent Frans Linde whom Nhleko claimed falsely dropped Zuma's name when he wrote in a memorandum that the president had instructed the 21 police dwellings be built next to his homestead.

Thus another farcical process over the Nkandla security upgrades draws towards the end. The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) had boycotted the latest ad hoc committee process, arguing that they did not want to validate Nhleko's nonsensical report by deliberating its contents. Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane said in a statement on Thursday night that on "spurious grounds", Madonsela had been denied the opportunity to brief the committee on her report and the proposed remedial actions.

The office of ANC Chief Whip Stone Sizani said in a statement that the Office of the Public Protector had "done its work". "It is neither practical nor sustainable that an institution should be called to respond before Parliament whenever a view is expressed regarding reports it release [sic]."

"The ANC in this Parliament, as the majority party, will ensure that these criminal and disciplinary actions against contractors and officials are closely monitored to ensure that the monies are recouped and those who connived to rob the state face the music."

Speaking at a social justice and development dialogue on Thursday night, Madonsela said if Parliament were serious on the Nkandla matter, they would want to get as much information as possible from any source. She also said there were references attributed to her report that she did not write and was concerned that Parliament might be debating the wrong document.

It is now certain that Madonsela will not get the opportunity to explain her report to Parliament. It is also certain that Zuma will not be made to pay back the money, although EFF leader Julius Malema will take another shot at asking him the question in Parliament next week. It seems inevitable that Nhleko's report will be adopted by the ANC majority in the National Assembly, and therefore more money will come out of state coffers to fund further upgrades at Nkandla.

And so the tragedy wrapped in a farce continues with the ANC maiming itself to shield the president, excelling at desecrating the Office of the Public Protector and making a joke out of accountability. Nkandla, meanwhile, is set to continue chewing at public funds like a deranged Pac Man. The president may not be paying back any money but, interminably, every South African is.

This column first appeared on Daily Maverick.