Most of South African newspapers have published images of President Jacob Zuma’s private residence in Nkandla, defying a government warning that this would break security laws.
Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla residence is at the centre of a row after it emerged that the government had used $20 million of taxpayers’ money to refurbish it.
Cabinet ministers on Thursday said anyone who published images or footage of the estate would face arrest.
A group of South African editors described the warning as “absurd”.
The Times newspaper has the headline “So, arrest us”, above a picture of the luxury thatched-roof compound.
The Star newspaper has a photo of the homestead with a big red cross over it and the caption: “Look away! What ministers don’t want you to see“.
The upgrades to Jacob Zuma’s private residence include a helipad and an underground bunker, which the government says are needed for security reasons.
The contract is being investigated by South Africa’s public protector, or anti-corruption watchdog, Thuli Madonsela, amid allegations that costs were inflated, and that the renovations went far beyond what the rules allow for a politician’s private home.
Earlier this month, security ministers went to court to try to block Thuli Madonsela from publishing her report.
State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele on Thursday warned newspapers: “No-one, including those in the media, is allowed to take images and publicize images even pointing where the possible security features are.”
“It is not done anywhere. We have not seen the images of the White House showing where the security features are. It is not done in any democracy.”
Following the publication of the photos, the government has issued a statement, saying that newspapers are within their rights to publish photos of the estate but “zooming into safety and security features… is a challenge as it compromises national security”.
The newspaper editors say the public paid for the upgrades and have a right to see how their money was spent.
The warning has created public outrage, with many expressing their dissatisfaction on Twitter and also posting pictures of the home.
The main opposition has lambasted the upgrade and called for investigations into why so much was spent and whether Jacob Zuma was aware of the cost burden to the state.
The Democratic Alliance has always insisted that the upgrade was not only morally wrong and unjustifiable given the country’s social needs, but that it is also possibly illegal.
Other opposition parties have called it an abuse of state funds.
They also want to know why Jacob Zuma’s home was classified as a place of national security, despite being a private residence.
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