The truth behind Nkandla's whoppers

2013-11-17 14:00

On Thursday, Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence tabled a report detailing the reasons for R206?million in public funds having been spent to upgrade security at President Zuma’s residence.

The report, produced by a task team appointed by the ministers of police and public works, painted a picture of Nkandla as a place under siege – needing expensive new measures to combat the “high risk” of everything from firestorms and floodwaters to assassination, rape, air disaster and disease.

However, in interviews with City Press’ sister paper Weekend Witness, experts this week exposed errors and falsehoods in the team’s findings.

State’s claim:?Nkandla can be susceptible to strong earthquakes, on an average of one earthquake every 50 years, with occurrences at 5 to 6 on the Richter scale.

The risk of flooding is also very high.

The facts:? According to the foremost expert on seismic activity in KwaZulu-Natal – geophysicist Mayshree Singh – the worst tremor ever recorded at Nkandla was 4.3 on the Richter scale, which is 20 times weaker than the 5.0 event claimed in the report.

The 4.3 tremor happened 80 years ago. Singh said the region did experience some minor seismic activity.

Dr Susan Webb, senior lecturer in the department of Geosciences at Wits University, said: “That area is hardly high risk – it’s sitting near the centre of a tectonic plate.

“I’d love to know where they got their figures from!”

State’s claim: A number of small brick chicken coops at Zuma’s estate “were potential hiding places for intruders”.

The structures were torn down and a single large “chicken roosting area” was built for the family “to improve the security of the site”.

The expert view:? According to Dr Johan Burger, senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies: “This is ridiculous?–?a totally unrealistic threat at a site which itself has a very low threat profile.”

State’s claim: After President Zuma completes his term as president “local community should benefit?...?from facilities within Nkandla?–?including a new clinic, as well as the security compound itself, including its constructed safe havens”.

Here, the task force appears to suggest that the compound itself could be used as a fortress for villagers against unspecified marauders.

Expert view:? Burger said: “Leaving aside this totally unrealistic view of massed (marauders) in this rural area, I just can’t see them throwing open their gates to the community given its design?–?and it would defy the logic of the whole construction.”

?State’s claim:? Four-metre fences with detection systems, dog squads, bulletproof pillboxes, “safe haven” bunkers and a dedicated security compound were needed partly because of high rates of burglary, violent crime and rape in Nkandla.

?The facts:? According to the 2012-2013 crime statistics released by the SAPS, Nkandla was the ninth- safest district out of 187 districts in KwaZulu-Natal in terms of armed robbery, and the seventh- safest in terms of burglary, per capita.

There were 48 sexual assaults reported in Nkandla in 2012 compared with 102 in Taylor’s Halt and 218 in Port Shepstone?–?two towns with a similar population.

Major-General Ben Groenewald, former head of security for President FW de Klerk, and for the Fifa 2010 World Cup said: “We don’t know what the specific threats against the president are, but in terms of ordinary (opportunistic) criminals in the area?–?a president’s static guards and other protection plus the fences already in place provide a formidable deterrent.

“At a property like this, the outer perimeter is most important?–?so the construction of bunkers seems very far-fetched,” said Groenewald.

State’s claim:? “In Nkandla municipality, political tensions run high and many have been ascribed to battles around patronage with the ANC and some among opposition parties themselves, as is the case between the IFP and the NFP.”

Expert’s view:? According to Burger: “If the ANC patronage poses a security threat to ANC leaders, then there is obviously an easier way to remove that threat than (to build security compounds)?–?stop (the patronage)”.

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