South African newspapers publish forbidden photos of President Zuma’s luxury home

Jacob Zuma, South Africa's president, visits Wall Street and the New York Stock Exchange on September 19, 2011 in New York City.
Spencer Platt

South African newspapers published photos of President Jacob Zuma’s sprawling residence in KwaZulu Natal province today in defiance of an order from the ruling African National Congress to stop showing pictures of where Zuma lives.

At issue is the over-the-top luxury that the president and his family enjoy in a country where millions live in tin-roofed shacks. Zuma’s residence, known as Nkandla, has a home gym, helicopter pads, a mini football field and a pen for his livestock that reportedly cost $98,400 to build.

Last year, it was alleged that Zuma spend $28 million in state funds to refurbish the compound. Zuma has denied the claims.

More from GlobalPost: South Africa's Jacob Zuma spent $28 million of public money to make his house cooler

On Thursday, the ANC said that publishing pictures of Nkandla was “against the law” and offenders could be prosecuted.

"We are asking nicely that people no longer do it," Siyabonga Cwele, the state security minister, told reporters during a briefing. "We have not seen the images of the White House showing where the security features are. It is not done in any democracy, in any country. We are not supposed to do what we are seeing in the media at this stage."

Nathi Mthethwa, the police minister, explained that photos of Nkandla could reveal “security features” that are “classified.”

The South African National Editors Forum (Sanef) rejected the idea that publishing photos of Nkandla undermines Zuma’s security and announced that its members would continue to publish photos of the residence. "We firmly believe there is immense public interest in doing so,” Sanef said in a statement Thursday. "In this case, it unfortunately seems that the ministers are using security laws to avoid accounting to the public on the Nkandla upgrades.”

“There’s an assumption that the media has somehow put the president’s security at risk, which is not true,” Mpumelelo Mkhabela, Sanef chairman, told the Financial Times. He said the media had not published pictures of the security features at Nkandla. “You may as well not publish images of Union Building (the seat of government) because he spends most of his time working from (there),” he added.

Headline writers had a field day defying the ban on Friday, accompanying photos of Zuma’s residence with titles like "Look Away" What ministers don't want you to see" (the Star), "So, arrest us" (the Times), "The picture the state does not want you to see" (the Cape Times) and "Die verbode foto” (“The Forbidden Photo,” Afrikaans newspaper Beeld).