Editors disappointed by Nkandla restrictions

2015-07-23 15:06
A Sandf house at Nkandla. (Amanda Khoza, News24)

A Sandf house at Nkandla. (Amanda Khoza, News24)

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Johannesburg - The SA National Editors' Forum (Sanef) was disappointed by the limited access journalists had during a parliamentary committee oversight visit to the President Jacob Zuma's controversial homestead in Nkandla.

In spite of pleas to be allowed to enter Zuma's property during the long-awaited visit on Wednesday to KwaNxamalala village in Nkandla to inspect the over R200m worth of taxpayer-funded upgrades, journalists were kept on the fringes in a separate media tour.

''Journalists were only allowed access to the section of the property where 21 chalets for bodyguards and soldiers; the clinic and the helicopter landing pad are situated,'' Sanef said in a statement.

Police Minister Nathi Nhleko recently toured with a presentation explaining that the security upgrades to the homestead only cost around R50m and were necessary.

They included changes to the cattle kraal because the cows were setting the electric fence off, and a swimming pool that is meant to double as a water source in case of fire.

Sanef and media houses had asked the chairperson of Parliament's ad hoc committee, Cedric Frolick, and the Speaker of the National Assembly, Baleka Mbete, for media access to the residence, but they said they did not have the authority to allow this.

The African National Congress, which Zuma heads, and which Frolick represents on the committee, said that Mbete's powers did not extend beyond ensuring access to Parliament and legislatures. It did not stretch to the president's private home.

"The powers and functions of the Speaker [Baleka Mbete], to whom the request for media access to the President's residence was made by Media24, are restricted to Parliament, and do not extend to the residence of the president," spokesperson for the ANC's Chief Whip, Moloto Mothapo, said on Wednesday.

Media not allowed to accompany committee

But Sanef said: "The aim of the journalists’ visit was not to inspect or intrude into the president’s private residence, but it was part of their duty to inform the public regarding a matter of enormous public interest, given the public expenditure involved. It was within this context that the MPs visited the residence.

The media was not allowed to accompany the committee, but was taken on a tour of some of the public facilities.

''Denying the media a complete access and preventing them from accompanying MPs are an unreasonable and unjustified infringement of the public’s right to know."

Sanef said there were several provisions in the Constitution that bolstered its view that the committee had a duty to allow the media to be present.

It believed that several parts of the Constitution made provision for media access in matters of such great public interest.

Sanef was also concerned that the Democratic Alliance had gatecrashed the tour for the media.

This was after Mothapo said the DA disrupted the media tour and stopped journalists from asking substantive questions.

DA 'conduct is unacceptable'

Earlier, the in loco inspection of 21 SA National Defence Force houses degenerated into an argument between the visiting delegation and the DA.

The tour was supposed to be for the media, said officials from the presidency and the police ministry, and complained that DA officials kept interrupting them with questions.

''It was unfortunate that some DA members decided to participate in the part of the tour organised and reserved for journalists. Their conduct is unacceptable and has potential to politicise a non-partisan and innocuous media tour,'' said Sanef.

After years of defending the security upgrades, Frolick told journalists he was shocked by some of what he saw, believing it was not worth the price tag.

“The department of public works has a lot of explaining to do," he said.

The police and army facilities were not being used by protection services, but as police barracks with vandalism taking place.

He was also "shocked" by the state of the clinic, which had not been in use for years because of the probes relating to the expenditure.

Meanwhile, the committee was currently debating the findings at the KwaZulu-Natal Legislature in Pietermaritzburg.

'Terminology is misleading'

ANC MP Mmamoloko Kubayi said she had mixed emotions about the visit and felt angry because what she saw was not what they had been made to believe.

The money spent on Nkandla simply could not be seen on the property, she said.

Kubayi said the did not know how the word "ampitheatre" could have been used.

"There is no amphitheatre there and I don't know how the word was used to describe that place. The terminology is misleading."

She said there was "no security, let alone comfort", in a reference to the Public Protector's report on the expenditure called 'Secure in Comfort'.

Public Protector Thuli Madonsela recommended in her report that Zuma pay back a portion of upgrades that were not related to security, but Nhleko said in one of his post-investigation briefings that Zuma need not do so, and that more upgrades were actually necessary.

Read more on:    da  |  anc  |  sanef  |  jacob zuma  |  cedric frolick  |  pietermaritzburg  |  nkandla

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