Maharaj breaks ranks on Nkandla payback
Mac Maharaj has become the first member of President Jacob Zuma's inner circle to break ranks on Nkandla, publicly stating that he advised the president to pay back a portion of the R246-million spent on his private home. In an interview with the London-based Financial Times, Maharaj - who served as Zuma's spokesman for five years - said he told his boss to prepare to repay some of the money long before public protector Thuli Madonsela's investigation found that he had unduly benefited from security upgrades on his Nkandla home."From the beginning I said to him, 'President, prepare yourself for repayment.' This was before the report came out. And I said, 'If you have a problem, I'm sure that in your present position it won't be difficult to raise [the money].'story_article_left1"He said, 'No, I did not ask for those security enhancements. I'm not paying.' We know how stubborn each of us can be. And we know each of us has a blind spot," Maharaj said.But, when contacted yesterday for comment on his interview, Maharaj quickly did an about-turn, stating it had been "inappropriate" for him to reveal confidential information about his relationship with Zuma."I concluded this part of the interview with the following statement: 'On second thoughts, I think my comments on the president and Nkandla are inappropriate. Firstly, my job depended on confidentiality. My job ended only on April 30 2015. Secondly, the matter of Nkandla is still with parliament and possibly the courts. There is much contestation between the parties on this matter and I do not want my personal views arising from a confidential relationship to become a political football."He further said that he "understood the president's point of view that he would not pay for the security features as he had not asked for them".In the published interview, the former presidential spokesman further suggested that Zuma was shirking responsibility by refusing to pay back a portion of the money spent on his homestead."But however this thing pans out, what is important is we create a culture of taking responsibility for our actions."His comments are in sharp contrast to the stance taken by other senior government officials and ANC leaders who have stood firmly behind Zuma's refusal to accede to Madonsela's call that he reimburse the state for the money used to build him a swimming pool, cattle kraal, chicken run and other items that were not necessary for his security.Zuma's current spokesman Harold Maloka could not be reached for comment yesterday.The ANC, through its spokesman Zizi Kodwa - another former Zuma spin doctor - refused to comment on Maharaj's remarks."Why must the ANC comment on that? No, we refuse to comment on that. Ask Maharaj. Ask him in what capacity was he talking to the president?"Zwelinzima Vavi, a former Cosatu leader who was once close to both Zuma and Maharaj, yesterday said the president should have listened to his spokesman."That advice Maharaj gave should have been taken to heart ...story_article_right2"All I have been saying since the first story broke in the media in 2009 that R67-million had already been spent, and later 100 and something million, at that time the leadership should have intervened because the budget for Nkandla was R27-million," Vavi said.The publication of Maharaj's comments came after a week of drama with a group of MPs, including those from the ANC, visiting the Nkandla homestead and finding that the R246-million spending could not be justified.On their return from the visit, angry members of the parliamentary ad-hoc committee on Nkandla demanded that Police Minister Nathi Nhleko and his public works counterpart, Thulas Nxesi, be summoned to appear before the committee to explain "shoddy workmanship" done on the property."The presentation by [the] police minister this past Tuesday did empower the committee, but members feel that he needs to come back and clarify some of the concerns that emerged during the committee site visit to Nkandla on Wednesday," said ad-hoc committee chairman and ANC MP, Cedric Frolick.DA leader Mmusi Maimane said everything he saw during this week's parliamentary visit to Nkandla confirmed Maharaj's view that Zuma should be prepared to pay back a part of the money spent at Nkandla."The fact is that the president benefited in comparison to what he had before the upgrade. Shoddy as the workmanship might be, he profited. He should pay back R52-million for the pool, the kraal, the mood lights and the clinic. Matters such as the bunkers and the lifts still need to be determined."Where I differ with Maharaj is that I do not believe one can blame what happened at Nkandla on a presidential blind spot. The president was quite aware of what was happening. How could he arrive home and fail to notice the massive extent of what was being built? How could he fail to realise what was happening when the National Key Points Act was cited," Maimane said.full_story_image_hleft1In the Financial Times article, Maharaj is described as "close" to Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and is quoted as describing Ramaphosa as a leader who will make a great president."He's a fantastic negotiator, he's got an enormous capacity to stay focused on 10 issues. I think he will probably make a good president, [although] I'm not ruling out that even when he becomes president you find some major cock-up takes place."To Maimane, Maharaj's comments suggest that Zuma is increasingly becoming a spent force, politically."The content of the article, which places Maharaj close to the deputy president, confirms that the fate of all second-term presidents has befallen Mr Zuma: a succession battle. It also shows how ANC members, even ones as prominent as Maharaj, lose the capacity to disagree until they leave those formal structures," said Maimane.Yesterday, at the EFF's second birthday celebrations, party leader Julius Malema reiterated his call that Zuma "pay back the money".Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini said he had never heard Maharaj say Zuma must pay, and that he did not fault him because he had a right to say anything. "But what is clear is there are reports, the latest one being the police minister's, that have talked about that matter and cleared him."Matter of FactIn this report we suggested that Maharaj "quickly did an about-turn" on his comments when contacted by the Sunday Times, and stated that they were "inappropriate".In fact, Maharaj withdrew his comments at the end of his interview with the Financial Times, stating: "I concluded this part of the interview with the following statement: 'On second thoughts, I think my comments on the president and Nkandla are inappropriate. Firstly, my job depended on confidentiality. My job ended only on April 30 2015. Secondly, the matter of Nkandla is still with parliament and possibly the courts. There is much contestation between the parties on this matter and I do not want my personal views arising from a confidential relationship to become a political football'."This version of events was confirmed to the Sunday Times by the Financial Times as accurate. We regret the error.