George airportIn comments that he is reported to have made at a luncheon yesterday, President Zuma apparently asked why there was so much criticism over state expenditure on his personal residence at Nkandla, if the state had been prepared to build an airport for PW Botha in George in 1977?

He also pointed out that he lived in official accommodation without paying rent and that he made use of official aircraft without having to pay the costs involved.   Were these unfair benefits, he asked?   When it was pointed out that Nkandla was his own personal property he asked whether it was not the state’s duty to protect the president and the deputy president?


The President pointed out that the Special Investigative Unit (SIU) had already found that he was not responsible for the expenditure on Nkandla and had recommended disciplinary steps against 12 officials (a finding that is being hotly contested by some of the accused officials).

If he is correctly reported, the President’s comments raise disturbing questions regarding his views on the distinction between proper state expenditure on bona fide projects and expenditure that will result in his own enormous and unjustifiable enrichment.

The state naturally has a duty to provide official accommodation and transportation for a president while he is in office.  It also has a duty to provide a reasonable level of security to retired presidents.  However, something must be seriously wrong if the provision of such security leads to state expenditure that vastly exceeds the value of the property that is being protected as well as expenditure on the security of other former presidents.  This is particularly the case when one considers that the amount spent on Nkandla would be sufficient to build 2 500 RDP houses.

Any state action that results in the enrichment of a political office bearer to the tune of hundreds of millions of Rand is fundamentally wrong and unacceptable.   Even if the SIU were to be proved right that President Zuma was not responsible for the decisions involved, he would still not be entitled to the personal enrichment that would nevertheless ensue from the mistakes of the accused officials. There is clearly no equivalence between the building of a public airport and the provision of private retirement accommodation.

PW Botha was not given ownership of George Airport and derived no personal benefit from it above and beyond the benefit that it brought to all people wishing to fly in and out the southern Cape.  Neither was it built simply to accommodate President Botha’s personal travel needs.   The southern Cape was in sore need of an airport as is illustrated by the fact that George Airport now handles 600 000 passengers per annum – significantly more than East London, Bloemfontein and Kimberley. And any way, since when has President Zuma adopted PW Botha as a role model?

What emerges from President Zuma’s remarks is his growing sensitivity to media criticism over Nkandla;  his, and the ANC’s failure to accept that the expenditure of R246 million on his private residence is indefensible; and the lack of credibility of the findings of organisations like the SIU that are ultimately under the President’s control.

By Dave Steward, Executive Director