Jacob Zuma's Nkandla home: South African papers defy photo ban

The Star newspaper

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South African newspapers have published images of President Jacob Zuma's residence, defying a government warning that this would break security laws.

Mr Zuma's Nkandla residence is at the centre of a row after it emerged that the government had used $20m (£12m) 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 home of South Africa President Jacob Zuma in Nkandla - 28 September 2012 The chalets and refurbishments at Nkandla are said to have cost $20m (£12m)

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 Mr Zuma's private residence include a helipad and an underground bunker, which the government says are needed for security reasons.

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If this were merely a squabble about what sort of bulletproof glass Mr Zuma has in his living room, and whether he'd be safer if the matter were kept private, then perhaps we could dismiss it as such”

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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 Ms 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 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."

Awkward for ANC

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 Mr 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 Mr Zuma's home was classified as a place of national security, despite being a private residence.

BBC Africa correspondent Andrew Harding says the issue is an awkward one for the governing African National Congress (ANC), with elections approaching next year.

He says it also touches on deeper concerns about the undermining of South Africa's young, but vital, democratic institutions.

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