Tjatjarag: Nkandla: A failure of Mandela’s legacy

2013-12-23 10:00

From the painful beauty and symbolism of founding president Nelson Mandela’s funeral to the dithering comedy of errors of Thursday’s press conference to release a ministerial report on the spending of more than R200?million on the president’s Nkandla residence, is an insight into a revolution betrayed.

The sound of rough earth being crunched under the march of the military carriage carrying Madiba’s coffin to his final resting place in Qunu held a nation enthralled.

It was a journey completed, impossible until it was done.

The flag tucked over the casket was whole, unfurled and unbloodied, owned by a fractious but united country.

Mandela left us a profound legacy and touched us. I think that’s why South Africans turned out in millions to pay homage to him last week. He also made us proud of ourselves and gave us dignity through this pride.

Nkandla is a symbol of a loss of pride. It’s so tawdry and tinpot and can’t-do, which is why it’s raising the ire of South Africans. Thursday’s affair also raises the question of whether the people who now wear Mandela’s mantle do his rich legacy proud?

I saw a B team on display on Thursday releasing a report that revealed an utter failure of governance. Yet Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi is a blustering, battering ram who has been the Nkandla henchman from day one.

Smoke, mirrors and lies are the order of the day. Nxesi says President Jacob Zuma paid for his own home. Well, yes. Three thatched structures were bonded by the president’s friends, but they are a dot of cost in a sprawling estate for which the taxpayer has paid.

The bill is more than R200?million, but in the game of smoke and mirrors, this is now being divided into security upgrades and renovations to the property: R71?million – the lesser figure the ANC will now use; and R135?million on the “operational needs” of police officers and soldiers stationed at Nkandla. What a farce to divide it and spin it to us in this way. Don’t buy it.

The question I’d prefer answered is: Why was any of it necessary at all? It’s peacetime. President Zuma is a son of this soil and not South Sudan’s Salva Kiir, around whom one can understand a neurotic security set-up.

Another question. Why was a barracks, a helipad, a clinic, a fire pool and cattle kraal only built for the first family, their courtier cops and soldiers, and not for the entire area if, as the mandarins keep saying, the district of Nkandla is a ramshackle area?

Mandela shook down people for money all the time?–?but it was almost always for others.

Nkandla is for one man and his family.

Qunu got a presidential dividend, but it was for people, not for patrons. Dotted through the Nkandla report are instances of fear of the people and of local facilities not being good enough for the rulers.

The report says: “The [health] facilities are too far away and unable to meet the standards or the nature of health required for the president and his household.”

I wonder what happened to equality, the principle upon which our democracy revolves.

Nxesi and the larger security cluster of Cabinet are spinning like mad, but the report tells it all. Out of 13 applicable procurement and best practice laws, 12 were flouted; the open-tender system was completely dropped in favour of choosing crony companies all managed by Minenhle Makhanya, the president’s personal architect.

Neither he nor the 15 companies he hand-picked are listed on the Public Works database, which is set up to ensure tax compliance and probity. Only six of these had security compliance.

Nkandla is a breach of law and of wisdom. Mandela bequeathed many things to us, but above all, he gave us law and wisdom.

The government’s report shows how laws were repeatedly violated in the making of Nkandla. When no leader stops to ask, “But was Nkandla wise?” then it feels like his bequeathed wisdom is also being violated.

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