(GIN)—A defiant national press corps braved threats from South Africa’s security ministry to photograph the president’s rural homestead where recent upgrades of $205 million rand ($20 million U.S.) were raising eyebrows in the region.
Nkandla, the country estate of President Jacob Zuma, reportedly was refurbished with public monies in the name of security. Upgrades included a bunker, twin helicopter landing pads, an athletics track, basketball court and artificial turf soccer field. The property is approximately a mile wide.
State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele warned the press against taking pictures: “It’s against the law. We are asking nicely that people no longer do it.”
But, the warning failed to scare off the legions of reporting staff. Speaking for the South African National Editors’ Forum, Adriaan Basson disputed claims that Zuma’s house was now a “national key point” similar to the Parliament and the Union Buildings.
“These upgrades were done to President Zuma’s private residence and not state property,” countered Basson in an open letter. “We will continue to publish images of the Nkandla upgrades because to stop doing so will be a betrayal of our duty as watchdogs of democracy.”
The media dust-up could have consequences in the upcoming by-elections this week taking place in 22 wards in eight provinces. The ANC hopes to hold on to key districts that could be leaning toward the opposition Democratic Alliance or the Pan Africanist Congress, among others.
Issues of income inequality, now symbolized by Zuma’s lavish estate, are looming large for ordinary South Africans whose income is stuck at low numbers.
Meanwhile, local area newspapers placed the exploding brouhaha on page one.
“Look Away—What ministers don’t want you to see” was The Star’s headline, while The Times defiantly stated: “So, arrest us.” The Cape Times displayed “The picture the state does not want you to see” and The Cape Argus ran a similar headline over a picture of Zuma’s homestead.
On social media, Facebook users updated their cover photos with an image of the Nkandla residence. Activist Zackie Achmat on Twitter wrote: “Break unjust laws. Share #Nkandla photo.” Constitutional law expert Pierre de Vos tweeted “Is there a single person who still believes Nkandla upgrade is about security? Father Christmas is waiting for your letter.”
An investigation by the country’s anti-corruption watchdog on possible inflated costs is due to be released shortly.
Category: Africa Briefs