President in a bunker

2012-08-11 11:21

This week in Parliament, we paid tribute to the women of South Africa.

The debate every year serves as an opportunity to appraise the progress we have made towards achieving real gender empowerment and equality of opportunity.

It is noteworthy that the South African Parliament enjoys one of the highest rates of female participation in the world.

Yet the chasm between political representation and the real lives of most women may never have been wider.

Beyond the gilded gates of Parliament there exists a story of “two nations”.

This is especially experienced by women who bear the brunt of spiralling crime and acts of unimaginable depravity against them.

Their suffering is a scar upon our collective conscience.

The plight of women in President Jacob Zuma’s home province of KwaZulu-Natal brings this harsh reality into stark relief.

Over the last week the media have catalogued plans to construct a new, “smart growth” town close to the president’s Nkandla residence.

The location of this project is neither coincidental nor altruistic in nature.

The president is simply prioritising his own community of Nkandla over other equally impoverished communities in KwaZulu-Natal.

The President, I believe, is acquiescing to the use of state resources to oil his Mangaung war ­machine.

Even if it were true that this ­initiative was conceptualised before his presidency began, the President should have shown appropriate judgement to avoid a conflict of interests.

But, of course, Zuma’s fingerprints are all over this project.

He is the chairperson of the Masibambisane Rural Initiative, hardly a passive observer with a passing interest.

The DA has asked the chairperson of Parliament’s standing committee on public accounts, Themba Godi, to investigate this suspect scheme, and we will shortly be submitting a similar request to the chairperson of Parliament’s standing committee on appropriations.

The R2 billion that has been earmarked for this vanity project could be much better spent on equitably developing projects for many more people in KwaZulu-Natal. Despite claims that this misnamed “smart growth centre” is a public-private partnership, the taxpayer will be expected to foot half of the R1 billion price tag.

This project is neither “smart”, nor likely to lead to any “growth”.

From a public policy perspective, we know that success in artificially creating new towns has been patchy across the world.

Yet there is a far more important point in the debate on Nkandla. In a poorly governed province which struggles to provide basic services like water and sanitation for many rural communities, this project is a monumental folly.

If there is any money to spare in the country’s emptying coffers, it should be spread equitably across many communities.

Obviously, the DA is not suggesting that every community and project should receive an identical share. We simply ask for fairness through equality of opportunity for all.

This project also speaks of a failure of leadership on a wider front.

The most important constitutional obligation of the state is to protect its citizens, especially the vulnerable.

This week, we were reminded that the women of South Africa face daily threats to their very lives.

Our communities are blighted by gratuitous violence against women and children.

Not far from Nkandla, we heard recently how grandmothers in KwaZakhele have had to take to the streets to protect their community and to tackle criminality.

Many news reports have shown that the young people and men of KwaZakhele failed to protect the women of this community.

While this is true, the most proximate failure is of the state to protect its citizens.

Yet we hear extra policing has been extended to the president’s own community of Nkandla, and his homestead. While Nkandla is locked down like the Pentagon, danger lurks outside the walls of the president’s impenetrable castle.

This president, who lives in a bunker of the mind, is now building one in reality.

The property, according to the media, comes complete with six double-story thatched houses and a helipad for ease of access by helicopter.

How long will it be before a helicopter whisks him to a nearby private airbase where a jet waits purring on the runway – all paid for by the South African taxpayer?

Does Zuma presume he will be president of South Africa for life?

So the communities of Nkandla and KwaZakhele serve as a “tale of two cities” in a country of “two nations”.

It is impossible to understand the leap of a presidential mind that allows one community, Nkandla, to be protected, and another, KwaZakhele, to be neglected.

In the former there is a state-of-the-art hospital, while in the latter citizens struggle to access basic healthcare.

The “two nations” of South Africa are not separated by geographical borders, but by access to opportunities. And in these “two nations” women receive the least access to opportunity and are most at risk.

Perhaps the most searing story we have heard in recent times was that of a 94-year-old woman being raped by a brutal criminal.

This man was released under the president’s special remission programme. The litany of failure is endless.

The government must fulfil its obligation to ensure all its citizens are protected. Women must be freed from the fear which stalks our communities.

Then, and only then, can we lay the foundations of a truly non-sexist generation in which women and men are equal.

»Mazibuko is parliamentary leader for the opposition Democratic Alliance

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