On Nkandla

This blog first appeared in The Mercury on Monday 17th February 2014 I have been reluctant to weigh in on Nkandala. This is simply because politics is not my heartland as a writer; I prefer tackling issues that matter. But the more I learn about this scandal the clearer it becomes that the President’s pad is as much an issue of values as politics. And values do matter to me. To date the Presidency, the media and opposition parties have focused on whether or not the security upgrades to his property are a) permissible in terms of what ought to be spent on a President’s house b) whether the upgrades demonstrate corruption on behalf of the President or his people and c) whether or not the upgrades were in fact security related. In short, we have been focusing on the ‘how’ rather than the ‘why’; specifically we have been focusing on whether he has abused his position of power to procure – or have his people procure – significant improvements to his personal home-stead. But perhaps the even more interesting question is ‘why’? Why does Jacob Zuma – or anyone for that matter – need a home of such extraordinary worth? This is a values question not a political one. I must say that if I were a sitting duck – I mean President – with R206 million worth of heat under my rear end, I too would be encouraging the nation to focus on the ‘how’ – particularly if I was adept at avoiding corruption charges. What I would not want – just months before an election – would be for anyone to start questioning the why; my values. In a nation plagued with poverty that would be really dangerous. Here’s the point: we the people of South Africa should flatly refuse to permit Jacob Zuma – or anyone else for that matter – to lead our country when they have a personal property worth – at the very least – R206 million. It is indefensible – even by an ardent capitalist like me – that a President presiding over a nation whose key priority challenges are poverty, inequality and unemployment, has a personal homestead worth this extraordinary amount of money. And bear in mind that R206 million is not the value of the house by any stretch; it is just the value of the security upgrades. Now for the purposes of this piece it matters not how he came to have such a lavish home; whether taxpayers money was misappropriated or not. What matters is that our leader has the kind of values that allow him to be commander-in-chief of a poverty-wracked nation whilst living in a home worth an utterly unconscionable amount of money. His recent interview with The Sunday Tribune on the topic demonstrated the fact that his moral retina is now irreparably detached. He did not feel the need to defend such gross excess at all. He actually went on the offensive saying that the criticism of Nkandla was unfair. He then explained that we are all “misinformed”. That’s right; we are misinformed about the fact that our President has a medium sized village as a personal home. He has entirely missed the point: “The point Mr President – is why do you have it at all? You have completely lost touch – not only with your people – but with the real issues of life in South Africa.” How can we trust a man with such values? How can we possibly vote for a leader who has this little regard for his people? Now I am certain that this piece will be interpreted by some as a none-too-subtle pre-election leg-up for opposition parties. That assessment could not be further from the truth; at this point I personally cannot find a single political party worth my X; our politics is currently not just third world but childlike. All I know is this; whether the leader’s name was Cameron, Obama, Zille or Zuma I would be unable to vote for a person who paraded wealth in front of a poverty-wracked nation to the extent that President Jacob Zuma has with Nkandla. The simple reason for this is that if these are the values – heartless and utterly self-serving – that he is applying in his personal life, we can safely assume that the same values are being applied in his running of our country. I will end with a prediction that is safe as houses as history has proved it time-and-time again: This man – who so callously and indiscriminately parades wealth in front of millions of unemployed, poor and hopeless people – will sooner or later be tossed onto the scrapheap of South African history. Justin Foxton is founder of The Peace Agency. This column is dedicated to the memory of 17 year old Anene Booysen: gang raped, mutilated and murdered.