Nkandla style – don’t worry, it is for security

In March 2014, public protector Thuli Madonsela found that president Jacob Zuma and his family unduly benefited from upgrades made to his private Nkandla homestead, which cost the taxpayer around R246 million.

According to the public protector’s report titled “Secure in Comfort”, government built a visitors centre, cattle kraal and chicken run, swimming pool and an amphitheatre for the president and his family in his private home.

Madonsela said that this clearly shows that Zuma and his family unduly benefited from the upgrades. However, government had a simple explanation for it all – security.

Justice Minister Jeff Radebe said that the cattle kraal, fire pool (seen by some as a new swimming pool) and all other features are “essential security features which ensures physical security and effective operation of security equipment.”

Who can dispute Radebe’s argument? Chickens setting off alarms – security risk. Not having a fire pool in case of a large fire – security risk. Not having an amphitheatre and having to travel on South Africa’s pothole ridden roads to visit a place of entertainment – security risk.

In fact, security is such an elegant excuse when explaining questionable decisions that it should not come as any surprise that this excuse has been used by government previously.

Trying to stop Seacom and Eassy in SA, because of security

The Department of Communications (DoC), as a major shareholder in Telkom, said in 2005 that it was protecting Telkom against competition “so that we could get big value for it because it was going [public on the stock market]”.

It was therefore hardly surprising that the DoC tried to prevent undersea cables Seacom and EASSy from landing in South Africa in 2008, which would break Telkom’s SAT-3 monopoly on international connectivity,

In its ‘Rapid Deployment of Electronic Communications Facilities’ policy guidelines, the DoC said that all undersea cables are to be landed or operated with the authorization by the Minister. Other onerous requirements, like a majority local shareholding, were also tabled.

When faced with the challenging question as to why new hurdles were introduced (curiously in guidelines to help the rollout of networks), security was the answer.

The late Deputy Minister of Communications Roy Padayachie told parliament that the landing of cables in South African territory had security implications and that due to this, discretionary ministerial authority was being utilized.

The Department of Communications was asked whether, in retrospect, it thought Wacs, Seacom, and Eassy were good for South Africa. Unfortunately the DoC did not answer by the time of publication.

Owning a large part of Telkom, because of security

Government’s 39.8% shareholding in Telkom has often been questioned, considering that it is also regulating the industry.

Government made billions of rands after Telkom was listed on the JSE, and former DoC DG Lyndall Shope-Mafole said that they protected Telkom against competition to get “big value” for it when it listed on the JSE.

How does government explain its continued shareholding in Telkom, despite the fact that its monopoly caused high prices and disconnected services? Security of course.

When Shope-Mafole was asked by Carte Blanche in 2006 why government did not pull out and regulate the industry strongly, she said it was not an option.

“No. Especially in this day and age when security is such an issue, nobody is going to do that,” she said.

The former DoC DG gave the example of a tsunami heading for South Africa, and government needing Telkom’s infrastructure to warn people.

The Department of Communications was asked why it was still maintaining its shareholding in Telkom. Unfortunately the DoC did not answer by the time of publication.

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Nkandla style – don’t worry, it is for security