The symbol of Zuma’s presidency

2012-11-03 12:53

It seems a lifetime ago when our country was widely viewed as “a shining city on the hill”, an example of South African “exceptionalism” on a continent too often associated with graft and plunder.

President Jacob Zuma, as befits his tenure thus far, has delivered a more modest vision: a luxurious private home perched on a hill in one of the country’s poorest regions.

It is a massive personal indulgence funded by South African taxpayers to the tune of close to R250 million.

Some commentators have suggested that legitimate questions in and outside of Parliament about the president’s profligacy are a camouflage for latent racism.

Are African leaders, they say, not entitled to the same “dignity” as their Western counterparts?

After all, why should the president not enjoy the “trappings of office”, such as having a well- appointed home or a Boeing 777?

These arguments, many of them deployed by Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi at his “Nkandlagate” press conference, are a
desperate smoke screen.

Laws and regulations exist to delineate the extent of the South African people’s financial responsibilities towards any sitting president, and they are rightly (if

generously) limited to providing him with the tools of his trade, not the means to indulge his personal vanity.

Strangely, government invoked provisions from apartheid’s shadowy National Key Points Act to justify the spending.

One of Africa’s oldest liberation movements is now parroting the legitimising arguments and practices of the apartheid regime.

The 1980 legislation, enacted at the height of apartheid, makes it almost impossible to determine who authorises a project and how it is paid for. As such, there remain many unanswered questions surrounding “Nkandlagate”, and the DA is determined to get to the bottom of them all.

Government’s other claim that the project is permissible based on the security allowance provided for in the Ministerial Handbook also holds no water, since it places a clear limit of R100 000 on private-home security upgrades.

The DA’s request for the review of the Ministerial Handbook to be completed continues to be stonewalled by Minister in the Presidency Collins Chabane.

We still do not know what know the money is not coming from the fund provided for the particular purpose, in law, of
providing security upgrades for national key points.

We don’t even know with any certainty whether Nxesi’s claim that the president’s private home has been declared a national key point is true, because the act does not compel any minister to make such a declaration public.

This week in Parliament, I announced that I would introduce a Private Members Bill to amend the National Key Points Act, which will align it with the constitutional principles of accountability and transparency.

Ministers would then have to motivate to Parliament why a property should be designated a national key point, and why this property’s national security can be considered to be at risk.

While every state in the world must carefully balance national security with freedom of expression, the former must be defined with precision.

In domestic and international law, there is a growing view that states have overcompensated in the direction of
national security at the expense of freedom of expression.

If we are not heedful, the government of the day will be able to designate any physical building, institution or individual a “threat to national security” by executive fiat, a situation not unlike that of South Africa under apartheid.

This debate, however, centres on another truth: our president lacks the humane qualities to lead.

What is really offensive about government’s responses is that they are framed in dubious procedural terms. Or more simply put: what the president can get away with, he will attempt to get away with, rather than consider the ethical dimension of public

This is why I also announced that the DA will be resubmitting our legislative proposal to amend the Executive Members’ Ethics Act, which provides a code of ethics governing how government’s executive branch discharges it responsibilities.

This will be complemented by a proposal to establish an oversight committee in the presidency, as no head of government can
oversee himself or herself.

Indeed, if “ethics” are defined as “the moral value of conduct”, then who can believe that the spending of nearly R250 million on Zuma’s private home is not a contravention of the content and the spirit of the act?

This cuts to the heart of what is truly offensive about this scandal. In a sea of grinding poverty, with social and economic challenges top of mind for all South Africans, how can the head of state demonstrate such a monumental lack of judgment?

How can he be so insulated from public opinion?

With the smell of gun smoke still hanging in the post-Marikana air, does he not deem it appropriate to stop the Nkandla project, even as a small gesture of solidarity to those who lost loved ones?

Zuma is revealing himself in his extravagant lifestyle and callous indifference to be in the mould of Kenya’s former president Daniel arap Moi and Equatorial Guinea’s President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo.

In an unfortunate juxtaposition for Zuma, it was revealed a couple of weeks ago that his Malawian colleague, President Joyce Banda, has taken a personal salary cut of 30%. Her humility and no-thrills style inspires us all, but not Zuma.

He craftily froze Cabinet’s salaries in “response” to the current crisis, but did not stop the R250 million upgrade.

Since entering office in April, Banda has moved swiftly to stabilise Malawi’s economy.

She has also started ambitious domestic reforms aimed at improving the lives of Malawi’s 13 million people by focusing on improving the country’s agriculture, energy, infrastructure and health sectors.

When did you last hear our president speak of these issues with sincerity and conviction?

An effective and empathetic head of state is one who reads the national mood and acts positively on it. It is someone who knows that his or her fellow citizens want their president to roll up his or her sleeves and get on with the job.

The tragedy is that the ANC government always has to be compelled to do the right thing through the legislative process and court rulings. Zuma’s “Nkandlagate” scandal is not an aberration or a random error of judgment. It is symptomatic of an existential crisis in the ANC.

Day by day, this malaise is eating away at government’s credibility.

» Mazibuko is the DA’s parliamentary leader

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