, JOHANNESBURG, Nov 22 – South African media on Friday defied a government warning and splashed pictures of President Jacob Zuma’s private home which was controversially revamped using millions of dollars of taxpayers money.
State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele had on Thursday warned media to stop publishing photographs or footage of Zuma’s rural home, arguing that doing so was in violation of security laws.
“No one including those in the media, is allowed to take images and publicise images even pointing where the possible security features are,” he said.
“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,” said Cwele.
But newspapers ignored the warning and on Friday splashed on their front pages pictures of Zuma’s lavishly-refurbished homestead, photographs that have previously run in the media with no government repercussions.
The Times had on its front page an aerial picture of the thatched-roof compound under the headline “So, arrest us”.
The Star also had a picture of the homestead, but with a red X imposed across it and a caption “Look away! What ministers don’t want you to see”.
The editors’ association said it was “disappointed and shocked” at Thursday’s order.
It vowed to continue publishing the pictures, “not with the intention to endanger the life of anyone, but to continue our role as watchdogs of public expenditure,” said Adriaan Basson of the South African National Editors’ Forum.
“We believe it is of immense public interest to keep on reporting this grotesque public expenditure of over 200-million-rand on the private residence of a sitting president,” Basson told AFP.
The government’s decision to spend over 20 million dollars of taxpayer money to revamp Zuma’s private property has sparked public anger amid an economic crunch in a country where 10 million people live on social grants and many have only tin shacks for their homes.
The splurge in the verdant hills of Zuma’s political stronghold was first publicised late last year.
The security upgrade to Zuma’s house in rural Nkandla in the eastern province of KwaZulu-Natal included a helipad, underground bunkers, fencing and a clinic.