President Jacob Zuma ducked the difficult questions put to him by public protector Thuli Madonsela for more than a year, and then turned around at the last minute and accused her of conducting an "unfair" and "tainted" investigation.
Madonsela's report, released last week, details how Zuma's reactions shifted from evasion to petulance during her two-year investigation into the R246-million security-related upgrade at his Nkandla home.
Madonsela wrote to the president in January last year, informing him that she was investigating public complaints about the upgrades.
When she received no response, she followed up her initial correspondence four times without success before she finally managed to get an audience with him in August.
Madonsela handed Zuma a written list of 29 questions at the meeting. He responded six weeks later with a lengthy general statement in which, she says, "he denied that he was ever apprised of the fact that his conduct formed part of my investigation".
He avoided responding to specific questions about what he knew and when he knew about certain things, and explained the broad outlines of the security upgrades that took place.
He aimed a broadside at what he considered to be discrimination inherent in the questions Madonsela had posed: "I take exception to the continued conflation of the security upgrades with the construction of buildings for the benefit of security personnel. Whilst neither were at my behest, the latter is directly attributable to the fact of my residence being located in a rural area with all the attendant challenges.
"Even people drawn from rural communities can play a role in the development of our constitutional democracy."
Madonsela replied, listing the 18 questions that Zuma had ignored. "I never received a further response from the president to the questions posed to him," her report concludes.
But there was one more twist. On receipt of Madonsela's provisional report in January this year, Zuma played the victim.
To Madonsela's astonishment, he repeated his claim of having been blindsided by her investigation, despite a paper trail to the contrary going back 12 months.
He wrote: "At no stage have I been apprised of the fact that my conduct forms part of any investigation, either by the public protector or any other institution, and my statement is framed in the light of my appreciation.
"It now appears apparent that unbeknown to me, my conduct, ethical and otherwise, in fact forms part of the public protector's investigation."
Despite his failure to answer questions sent to him months before, Zuma attacked the provisional report for being "tainted by a lack of proper procedure" and "not applying the rules of natural justice".
Madonsela was nonplussed: "In my respectful view, the president's concerns have no basis in fact or law."
It is the story that would define a presidency. Phillip de Wet pulls together four years of reporting about Nkandla into a compelling e-book, now available for $2.99 from Amazon.com and authorised Paperight outlets.
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The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane) produced this story. All views are ours. See www.amabhungane.co.za for our stories, activities and funding sources.
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