South African media defy ban over photos of Jacob Zuma`s house

The South African media defied government threats and published pictures of President Jacob Zuma`s private home.

Johannesburg: The South African media on Friday defied government threats and published pictures of President Jacob Zuma`s private home, which was controversially revamped using USD 20 million of taxpayers` money.

State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele had yesterday warned the 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 yesterday 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 yesterday`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 a news agency.

The government today issued a statement saying the minister`s remarks had been "misconstrued".

"Government has no problem with the media publishing pictures" of Zuma`s residence, spokeswoman Phumla Williams said.

"However, zooming into safety and security features" of the property is problematic "as it compromises national security".

Such action "directly opens access to and can obviously pose a threat and risk to the personal safety of the head of state," she added.

The government`s decision to revamp Zuma`s private property sparked public anger during an economic crunch in a country where 10 million people live on social grants.