Nkandla: a storm in a teacup?

2012-10-13 12:45

In the past two weeks, the public has been inundated with reports about the use of taxpayers’ money to revamp President Jacob Zuma’s private home in Nkandla and to fund the so-called Zumaville project.

The question is: why is there so much media focus on Nkandla?

Is it about the upcoming Mangaung ANC elective conference, or is it a case of the media reporting on an issue that is in the public interest?

This media interest seems to ­revolve around two issues:
» One concerns the perceived ­exorbitant amounts of money involved in each project.

Since taking office, Zuma has gained notoriety for being the first post-apartheid president to cost taxpayers in the manner that he has.
First, his decision to expand the Cabinet has significantly increased costs.

This would not have been a problem if we were seeing positive results.

The ongoing problems in the basic and higher education ministries do not show any signs of slowing down.

It is this perception of recklessness with the public purse on the part of Zuma and those around him that has generated interest in the Nkandla saga.

According to media reports, his homestead is costing taxpayers close to R240 million.

In our minds, this is a classic example of Zuma’s extravagance and expensive lifestyle.

One newspaper this week compared the above ­figure to the R28.2 million spent on upgrades by public works on president Nelson Mandela’s ­private residence in Qunu in May.

But again, is it fair to compare monetary figures used to upgrade private homes of these two ANC leaders?

Context becomes significant here.

The fact that the cost of living has gone up significantly and that our president is married to four women – which brings with it extra costs to taxpayers – should not be ignored.

»The Nkandla saga also seems to concern the issue of public interest.

Is the press serving the interest of the public by reporting extensively on the two projects?

Who determines what constitutes the public interest?

Any time taxpayers’ money is used, it is important to ensure that there is transparency and accountability to prevent abuse.

There is no denying any more that we live in a nation where there is serious misuse and abuse of the public purse.

The point is there is nothing wrong with raising pertinent issues, but the problem arises when the media is seen to be selective in reporting or, at worst, is acting as a pawn in political fights.

As for the funding of Zumaville, the man himself said: “It is a pity that only Nkandla seems to generate interest.”

But only time will tell if this is a storm in a teacup or not.

»Ndlovu is a political science lecturer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal

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