Zuma’s guards ditch R12m Nkandla digs

2015-03-15 06:00

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VIP protectors stay 70km away, despite 14 houses and a field built for them

The police houses attached to President Jacob Zuma’s private home in Nkandla – built at a cost of nearly R12?million as part of the R246?million upgrades – are lying unused while his bodyguards stay in guesthouses in nearby Eshowe.

The president’s security detail were still making use of three-star guesthouses in the town 70km away from his home, despite the fact that 14 houses were built to accommodate Zuma’s Presidential Protection Unit (PPU).

During December, the Presidential Protection Services’ travel agents block-booked at least one Eshowe guesthouse from December 15 to January 1 for President Zuma’s protectors.

But they didn’t use the six rooms they had reserved for R650 a night at the three-star InnZululand for the entire period.

Other guesthouses were also allegedly used to accommodate VIP protectors, including Zuma’s bodyguards, during the wedding of the president’s nephew Khulubuse to Swazi Princess Fikiswa Dlamini at Nxamalala last September.

The repeated justification by both the police and public works ministries for on-site accommodation for Zuma’s bodyguards has been that they need to be as close to the president as possible.

This, they said, was because of the high level of security threats in the area due to its remote location and history of political violence, including a prior attack on Zuma’s homestead.

In a statement in October 2012, Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi argued that “security forces would need to be accommodated locally as a 24/7/365 service was required, with force levels varying, based on the current threat”.

“To base them themselves at the nearest town, Eshowe, was impractical. Parking for security vehicles would also be needed,” Nxesi said.

Though the use of guesthouses by PPU officers has decreased since the outcry over spending on the president’s private residence and subsequent investigations by the Public Protector and Special Investigating Unit (SIU), it still continues.

The 14 houses, built on the western border of the Zuma complex, face an Astroturf football pitch built by the provincial sports and welfare departments for the officers’ use. They are arranged in rows across the hillside.

Built in the same thatch-and-whitewash style as the main family complex, they are understood to each consist of a lounge, bedroom and bathroom.

There is a communal laundry, allegedly built without authorisation by the president’s architect, Minenhle Makhanya.

Rondavels outside President Jacob Zuma's home in Nkandla (above) which are supposed to be used by his police bodyguards
Picture: Khaya Ngwenya/City Press

The houses were built to accommodate the static SA Police Service (SAPS) detail on permanent guard duty at the Zuma home, the president’s travelling security detail – which vary in size from six to eight officers – and the advance guard detail sent ahead of his arrival, which normally consist of one or two officers.

Normally, when Zuma is away, the guard detail consist of two or three SAPS members stationed at the gate.

When City Press visited the area recently, few of the police houses appeared to be in use.

Sources in the area said most of them had not been furnished and those in use were furnished by the individual police officers using them.

SAPS spokesperson Lieutenant General Solomon Makgale said yesterday the inquiry by public works into the upgrades had led to a halt on all procurement.

Now that the inquiry had been completed, furniture would be bought, he said. Nxesi, however, released his report in November 2013.

The SA National Defence Force (SANDF) clinic built for the Zuma family is also not being used, despite earlier assurances that it would be accessible to the local community.

According to the SIU report into the ballooning of costs in the security upgrade, the police houses were larger than required by the SAPS in its security assessment, on which upgrades were supposed to have been based.

The initial SAPS assessment called for 14 single, self-sustaining 30m2 units, but Makhanya then “overdesigned” and had double units of 43m2 each built instead.

Guesthouse owners City Press interviewed over the past six months confirmed that SANDF pilots who flew Zuma to and from Nxamalala, as well as PPU members, had used their establishments after the upgrade was completed in 2011.

“It’s been an open secret all along that the president’s bodyguards have been staying in town,” said one. “The bodyguards prefer to use the places that are walled so that they can park all their vehicles inside as a convoy. They also prefer to use those that are towards the Endumeni side of Eshowe, as it is closer for them and they don’t have to drive through town.”

Nick Phillips, owner of the InnZululand Guest Lodge, declined to comment. “I don’t want to get involved in this,” he said on Friday.

Relatives of some of Zuma’s bodyguards have complained to City Press that their lives were put at risk by having to make the drive, much of it through sugar cane fields, late at night.

“The protectors are being placed at risk because they have to drive to town after functions or meetings that end at 2am, because they have to travel to town to sleep. Why then were the houses built?” asked a relative who declined to be named.

A guesthouse owner said they had done business with the PPU’s travel agents despite being aware there was existing accommodation for the bodyguards at Zuma’s home.

“It did seem rather strange that they would want to book accommodation when they have places at the president’s home – but the business was very welcome. Everything was done via the travel agency that does bookings for the PPU. It was all completely official,” he added.

“This has been the practice since [Zuma] became president. We are especially busy over December.

“The entire town of Eshowe has benefited from this presidency. It’s not just the security people. There has been massive development in terms of the locals getting water and power. And the contractors all stay in Eshowe.

“The road that has been built was built by contractors from Eshowe. This has been great for the regional economy,” he said.

Presidential spokesperson Mac Maharaj referred City Press to the SAPS and police ministry for comment.

“These facilities are not on the president’s property. These facilities were requested and built by the SAPS for the use of its members.

“The SAPS would be best placed to provide you with the information you require,” Maharaj said.

Department of public works spokesperson Thami Mchunu did not respond to requests for comment.

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