OPINION: R7.8 million for Nkandla, easy as Pi

What's in a number, that which we call Pi? What's in R7.8 million, that which is now known as the amount that President Jacob Zuma must pay back for upgrades to his Nkandla homestead?

Pi is a mathematical constant, and one of those unexplainable, irrational numbers. It is the ratio (relation) of a circle's circumference to its diameter and is represented by the Greek letter π. In numbers, Pi equals 3.14159. So basically, any circle, anywhere in the world, crop or doughnut or coin, is going to equal 3.14159 when you take the measurement of the outside of the circle and divide it by the measurement of the straight line (if you had to draw one) that runs right across the centre of the circle - understood? Obligatory math lesson over, I hope.

Here's the thing about Pi though. There is no pattern, none can be found. No numerical combinations repeat themselves in the decimal. It can just go on and on and on with no symbolic configuration - at least not physically. It also cannot be represented by a fraction with just two numbers, like the fraction for half, which is ½, for example. Pi is not unlike other irrational numbers; the Fibonacci sequence is also completely irrational. Because its decimals also just goes on and on and on, without any exact way to represent that number as a fraction with just two numbers, again ½, for example.

There is one difference though… And that is that the Fibonacci sequence has somewhat of a pattern. The sequence starts with 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34 etc. and the next number in the sequence can be found by adding the two numbers before it. So, it's a little bit rational - in a cognitive way. We can make sense of it.

You know what the country is having great difficulty making sense of though? The total of the elusive pay-back-the-money debt: R7.8 million. The seemingly irrational number that National Treasury has recommended our president pay back for the non-security upgrades to his Nkandla homestead.

You know what else the Nkandla debacle has in common with these sequences? Like both of them, this debate just goes on and on and on...

Like Archimedes (or so it is recorded) did with Pi, Jacob Zuma managed to do with Nkandla, they both discovered, or rather developed, a sequence (in Zuma terms, a sequence of events rather than numbers) that would just not go away - an infinite, never-ending thing.

Now I'm pretty sure you can't use Pi to accurately measure the ratio of a fire pool, or a chicken run for that matter. You may be able to find that the ratio of the visitors' centre equals Pi - only of course if it were a perfect circle - which it isn't. Treasury was, however, able to calculate an exact number owing for these "very necessary" architectural and agricultural implementations.

Here's how they formulated it (really bad pun intended):

Quantity surveyors and the National Treasury got together for a few days, armed with a couple of abacuses, and determined that a breakdown of the amounts were as follows:

  • R2.3 million for the swimming pool;

  • R1 million for the amphitheatre;

  • R1.2 million for the cattle kraal;

  • just over R250,000 for the chicken run; and

  • almost R2 million for the visitors' centre.

These amounts exclude the money spent on the ground floor of the visitors centre, something they considered a security measure.

The total for each of these elements was also determined using 2009's price allocations; therefore only 87.94% of what they would cost today.

Just in case you were wondering, R7.8 million for R265 million-worth of pretty unnecessary homestead is only 2.9% of the total spent.

Like Pi, completely illogical. How can it be right?

I understand the frustration. This is a sequence of events, or at least debate, that is going to go on until kingdom come - the Nkandla kingdom no less. But consider this, the calculation is just what it is; maybe it makes no sense at all. The laws of this kind of accounting (and accountability, in fact) may seem completely irrational, but it really is as easy as Pi.

Haji Mohamed Dawjee is employed by Code For Africa at the head office in Cape Town as programme manager for impactAFRICA - the continent's largest fund for digital-driven data storytelling. She is a regular commentator on gender equality, sexuality, culture, race relations and feminism as well as ethics in the South African media environment. Follow her on Twitter: _ @sageofabsurd _