Controversial Nkandla Jacob Zuma and the History of Its Owner

Jacob Zuma Nkandla

This week, Jacob Zuma, the president of South Africa, said he did not request the multi-million rand state funded upgrades of his private residence Nkandla. The ombudsman found the amount of ZAR246 million spent on the renovations excessive and ordered the president to repay a portion of the expenses. Zuma said he did not ask for renovations and would not pay any money spent by government departments on upgrades. He said government departments were responsible for the expenditure to the Nkandla property. Zuma is correct; he did not approve the expenditure for the improvements to Nkandla.

Nkandla is a town in the uThungulu district of Kwazulu Natal, South Africa. The homestead of Jacob Zuma is not located in the town of Nkandla and is about forty miles south beyond the Nkandla Forest. A large rural area with approximately 115,000 residents, mainly Zulus occupy this area. Unemployment figures amount to 44 percent and poverty is widespread.

KwaZulu Natal measures about 57,228 square miles and is almost the same size as Portugal. The Ingonyama Trust owns 32 percent of this province and manages the mineral rights to the land. In 1997, the Trust Act was amended by Parliament, and one of the changes was the creation of a board of trustees. The trust is administered by the board, consisting of the Zulu king and eight members appointed by the Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform, Gugile Nkwinti. The Department of Rural Development and Land Reform are responsible for land reform, topographic mapping, deeds registration and cadastral surveying.

A Google earth view of Nkandla taken in 2006 shows the barren land with a few buildings. Jacob Zuma was during this time the Deputy President under the reign of Thabo Mbeki.

Jacob Zuma Nkandla 2006 Google Earth

The private residence of Jacob Zuma is situated on land owned by the Ingonyama Trust, the legal entity that owns the traditional land and administered by the Zulu King, Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu, on behalf of the state for the benefit, material welfare and social well-being of the Zulu nation.

Jacob Zuma has occupied the property since 2000, holds occupancy rights in his personal capacity, and has not claimed legal ownership of the homestead. According to the trust, which holds title to the land had given permission for the development to take place. The trust did not disclose specific conditions of the lease for the Zuma compound and said the Department of Public Works who holds a lease for the Nkandla compound. The department would pay the trust ZAR1100 per annum in rental, and this was a similar amount paid for schools, and other public buildings leased to the public works department and situated on land owned by the trust. The leases were of a long term nature and valid for up to 99 years. This essentially means that the Nkandla homestead of Jacob Zuma will be financed by the state, including the land on which it stands. The disagreement over the money spent on Nkandla is for the responsibility of The Ingonyama Trust as they are the legal owners of the Zuma homestead.

The Department of Public works is responsible for providing accommodation and property management services to the ministers of the South African government. The amount of funds authorized for upgrades to Nkandla has caused a public outcry and challenges to justify the expenses are ongoing

A Google Earth view of Nkandla during 2010 when Jacob Zuma was the president of South Africa shows a considerable increase in structure to the property.

Jacob Zuma Nkandla Google Earth 2010

The Ingonyama Trust will eventually be the beneficiary of the upgrades to Nkandla as the land held by a trust cannot be sold. Jacob Zuma can be forced off the land if the trust decides that he no longer needs to live there. The land according to the trust is communally owned, and the legislation set up in the trust was to be remedied by the Communal Lands Act. An Act providing for traditional land to be transferred to its occupants and in 2010, this was declared unconstitutional. At that time, this process was placed on hold. The leases for the land can be registered at the deeds office and then sold to its occupants. Presently Jacob Zuma does not have a title deed registered in his name at the deeds office.

The trust is excluded from paying over taxes to the local municipality and officials have studied a Supreme Court Appeal (SCA), prior to 2005 ruling, which barred it from collecting rates from the Ingonyama Trust. The trust is considered state property under this former ruling and exempt from taxes.

A report stated that the Trust had not paid any taxes since 1998, and the municipality has written off millions in unpaid rates. Under the trust, there are two types of ownerships, land that is owned by the trust and properties owned by private individuals through title deeds. In February 2009, the Municipality approached the High Court to resolve the unpaid taxes, and the case ruled in its favor. The Trust appealed the findings and the Court then ruled in favor of the Trust. The Constitutional Court of South Africa heard the case (CCT80/12) on February 12, 2013 and decided on March 28 March 2013 in favor of the Trust. The municipality cannot claim rates from state-owned property and will pay all legal costs of the Trust relating to this case.

The public works department has included a helipad, underground bunkers, security and fencing of the entire complex. Various statements referring to an old Apartheid-era law, the National Key Points Act, were mentioned as an explanation for the spending discrepancy by the public works department. Over-inflated prices for work done and high consulting fees were other factors for the exorbitant amount spent on the upgrades. Experts agreed the pricing was grossly inflated from construction to the air conditioning and security equipment. The astronomical amounts spent do not warrant the amount of work and renovations done. Wasteful spending and approval of astronomical prices paid remain under the scrutiny of the Public Protector.

The private residence of Jacob Zuma is declared a national key point and information has been deemed confidential by the public works department.

The 2013 Google Earth view of Nkandla shows the extensive growth and development to Nkandla.

Jacob Zuma Nkandla Google Earth 2013

The tax payers of South Africa paid for the Nkandla upgrades, and the uproar over the massive amount is staggering. The enquiry continues, and explanations are expected to resolve this issue. Jacob Zuma said he did not request the upgrades, the Ingonyama Trust approved the upgrades and will directly benefit from this expenditure while at the same time are exempt from paying taxes on the land.

Official presidential residences of the South African government are upgraded and maintained by the Department of Public works and historically this has been the correct procedure. Groote Schuur situated in the Western Cape has been the official residence of prime ministers and presidents since 1911.

Jan van Riebeeck marked out the land in Cape Town during 1657, and in the same year, a stately home was constructed. This residence changed ownership several times before it was bequeathed by Cecil John Rhodes to the government of South Africa and today is a museum and open to the public by appointment only.

Cecil John Rhodes undertook massive renovations to the property during this time, and perhaps the question should be asked who paid for those upgrades. Nkandla the homestead of Zuma is a trust owned land indirectly or directly and the beneficiary of any improvements. The taxpayer will continue to pay for presidential properties in the future, as this is a policy handed down from history. It is not about Zuma, it is about the trust and the public works department who have worked on the project and their authority to spend outrageous amounts of money. Is it not the same as Jacob Zuma’s residence being a National Key Point?

By Laura Oneale






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