OPINION: Nkandla: A day of rain and shame for Jacob Zuma
During President Jacob Zuma's rape trial in 2006, the world was taken on a journey through his home in Forest Town, Johannesburg - his bedroom, his shower and his personal and family relations. On the witness stand, Zuma had to expose private details of his life, including that he was circumcised and his HIV status. He had to describe the sexual encounter with his accuser in graphic detail. His daughter, Duduzile, had to testify in his defence about her recollection of events of that day and how she relates to her father.
Zuma subjected himself to all this in order to prove that he was not guilty of the crime of rape. It was demeaning for a former liberation hero and deputy president of the country to have private details of his life splashed on every media platform and become the main talking point in the country for several months.
The rape trial was not the only time Zuma's home was open to investigation. In 2005, members of the then Scorpions unit raided his homes, as well as properties of family members and his lawyers. On that occasion, a group of strangers knocked on the door of his Forest Town house at dawn and searched through it, looking for evidence of corruption. Hundreds of kilometres away, his home at Nkandla was also being rummaged through.
Despite these humiliating experiences, Zuma bounced back and went on to become the ANC president in 2007 and president of the country two years after that.
As President of South Africa, Zuma occupies the highest office of the land and is the prime custodian of the Constitution. He is meant to protect the dignity of the office he holds. His term has been plagued with numerous scandals and controversies, but none have haunted Zuma as much and affected him as personally as the security upgrades at his Nkandla home. And none have denigrated the Office of the President more than the Nkandla scandal.
The Public Protector's investigation into the upgrades led to enormous political pressure being exerted on Thuli Madonsela and her office by the security cluster. The presidency failed to answer many questions she had submitted regarding the project. Since the release of Madonsela's report, the issue has become politically explosive, particularly over her recommendation that Zuma pay back to the state a reasonable percentage of taxpayers' money spent on non-security upgrades. There have been numerous skirmishes in Parliament, including at the State of the Nation Address, with opposition parties, especially the Economic Freedom Fighters, demanding that Zuma be held accountable and pay back the money.
The report by Police Minister Nkosinathi Nhleko has opened up a whole new chapter in the debacle. The report, which concluded that Zuma need not pay back any money, is now being processed by the third parliamentary ad hoc committee on Nkandla. The committee, which is dominated by ANC members, thought it a good idea to inspect the upgrades themselves in order to certify Nhleko's findings and his recommendation that more money be spent to secure the president's home.
And so, this week, a spectacle ensued as MPs, officials and journalists all stomped around the Nkandla compound, opening up the private space of a sitting president to scrutiny. As cold, winter rain soaked the heart of Zululand, MPs sloshed around to check the facilities Madonsela deemed to be non-security upgrades and Nhleko insisted they were security related.
While they did so, rain drenched journalists were allowed to inspect the adjoining development, where 21 chalets meant for police and army personnel stand mostly uninhabited and in waste. They were also taken into what was meant to be a clinic that now stands empty and incomplete. Democratic Alliance MPs who are not members of the ad hoc committee joined in the spectacle, tweeting pictures as they went along. Pictures circulated on social media of a frightened lamb seeking refuge from the rain, mattresses on the floor of one of the chalets and a shoddily built toilet with the seat lifted.
Of course these were not from the inside the president's own house but these crude images are all now associated with Zuma's Nkandla home. These are the images the world will associate with where the President of South Africa lives.
From the discussions in the ad hoc committee meeting in Pietermaritzburg on Thursday, there was consensus that the project was poorly managed, that there was no value for money whatsoever and that costs were heavily inflated. ANC MPs lamented that the president is in danger at Nkandla due to poorly built and incomplete facilities.
They also raged that upgrades were inaccurately portrayed as being luxurious, including by Madonsela, when there was nothing lavish to be found. Some said their own constituency offices and swimming pools were better than the facilities built for the president. One ANC MP, Thandi Mahambehlala, attacked Madonsela for misleading the public. Another ANC MP, Dumisani Gamede, said he was very hurt to see the state of the homestead, and questioned why people were "damaging" the country by portraying an inaccurate picture of the upgrades.
Opposition MPs called for all those responsible for the project to appear before the committee. They also called again for Zuma to explain his role, particularly after a police memo emerged that suggests that the 21 bachelor flats, constructed at a cost of R135 million, were built on instructions from the president.
The memo states: "By instruction of the State President, President Zuma, the existing house at Nkandla currently accommodate [sic] SAPS members must be converted as part of the president's household.
"To cater for the needs of the members currently accommodated in the house as refer above [sic], additional bachelor flats need to be added to the needs assessment previously provided to your department."
As usual, ANC members of the committee argued against any questioning of the president. "We must be very careful before we can say there are serious allegations against the president," the committee chairman Cedrick Frolick said. "I do not share the same views that there are serious allegations all of a sudden against President Jacob Zuma."
And this is precisely why the Nkandla scandal has dragged on for five years, with no end in sight to the controversy, and the continued defilement of the Office of the President. From the security cluster to the government task team to Nhleko to the ad hoc committee, ANC leaders engage in all manner of theatrics to protect Zuma and only create more controversy.
What they fail to realise is that the fact that there is shoddy workmanship, inflated costs and incomplete facilities at Nkandla does not make Zuma the victim. It shows that the Nkandla project, like so much else that is managed by government, is badly done with no care for how much is spent or accountability for the end result. An outrageous amount of money was spent on what is clearly an unmitigated mess that will take millions more to fix. Some things, like the unnecessary construction of the 21 chalets, cannot be undone.
Now the committee is desperate to find someone to blame, as if that will minimise the scandal. The ANC MPs also seem to be arguing that because the facilities that Madonsela termed non-security upgrades - the swimming pool, amphitheatre, visitors centre, chicken run and cattle kraal - do not look lavish, the president should not have to pay for them. They continuously sidestep the issues that the president and his family accrued these benefits improperly, regardless of whether they look extravagant or not.
The ad hoc committee will continue considering the matter and is scheduled to submit their report to Parliament at the end of August. The ANC, it would seem, will continue to trip over themselves to protect Zuma from reimbursing the state, and will undoubtedly concur with Nhleko's recommendation that more money be spent to upgrade security at Nkandla.
They are probably oblivious to the fact that their little foray into the compound once again subjected the president and his family members who live there to humiliation. A home might be a person's castle, but for Zuma, it is place where others come to look and scoff.
Had Zuma agreed from the outset that the project was appallingly managed with unnecessary features added on, and agreed to pay for the upgrades that benefitted him and his family, he could have preserved his dignity and protected the office he holds. But he would rather let this fiasco continue in perpetuity, allowing his home to be a spectacle.
So Nkandla continues to be what it is - a monument to corruption and excess, a showcase for incompetence, a place of South Africa's shame.
This column first appeared on _ Daily Maverick. _
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