The house that Zuma built

2015-05-31 15:00
Nathi Nhleko

Nathi Nhleko

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President Jacob Zuma is right. There is an obsession with Nkandla. Discussing “the house of one man”, as he puts it, has become tedious. It is a distraction from the myriad challenges that affect the lives of millions of South Africans every day.

There has been no escaping Nkandla since the start of the fifth Parliament more than a year ago. The Nkandla lexicon sneaks into everything, from the energy crisis and poor service delivery, to meaningful debates about job creation and combatting corruption.

It is the elephant in the room in both houses of Parliament. Over the past few weeks, it has filtered into debates about the government departments’ crucial budget votes.

Nkandla has split Parliament in two, with the 62% majority party having a tough time deflecting the relentless – and sometimes infantile – attacks on their president.

Nkandla has been a trigger for the deterioration of parliamentary behaviour in the past year, with mutual disrespect and unhealthy anger building between the ANC and opposition benches.

This week, for instance, the House was rescued from chaos with the announcement of a 15-minute “comfort break” after DA chief whip John Steenhuisen accused Deputy Trade and Industry Minister Mzwandile Masina of mouthing to DA MPs the phrase “I will f*** you up” (note, the asterisks are mine).

Nkandla was not the spark, but the row over the house of one man has helped to breed this rough pub-like culture of foul mouths and rude finger gestures in Parliament.

It is now 14 months since ever-patient Public Protector Thuli Madonsela found that President Zuma had unduly benefited from the R246 million in upgrades to his private home. So, like many Nkandla-fatigued yet ever-optimistic South Africans, I was looking forward to a breakthrough in the impasse on Thursday.

Here was a golden opportunity for Police Minister Nathi Nhleko to determine an amount that Zuma owed – even if the president was oblivious of the upgrades taking place.

A gesture would probably satisfy former ANC MP Ben Turok, who warned months ago that the country was “sick to death” of Nkandla and accused his party of a lack of wisdom on the way it had handled the controversy.

“I would say fair is fair. I would say, come on be a sport, pay something,” was his advice to President Zuma.

Nhleko had an opportunity to put the Nkandla story to rest, so that our multiparty Parliament could get down to the serious business of building democracy together and tackling the growing jobs crisis that was brought into sharp focus this week.

Anticipation built up ahead of the 7pm press briefing on Wednesday, with two reminder notices being issued to the media (like journalists would forget). The hype increased when the briefing was abruptly postponed for 24 hours, then shifted to 1.30pm on Thursday.

Minutes before, news leaked on Twitter that Nhleko had determined that Zuma did not have to pay back a cent. The full farce of the 50-page Nhleko report unfolded in the Zuma-owes-zero press conference, which included Wikipedia references and amateur damage-control video demonstrations.

Of course, Nhleko’s “f*** you” to the Public Protector, his announcement that the questionable features at Nkandla were, in fact, security features and that more money needed to be spent to complete security upgrades at Zuma’s home should not have taken any of us by surprise. It was naive to expect anything different from a minister who had been tasked by his own boss to investigate the liability of ... his own boss.

Now, thanks to Nhleko, we can be assured of yet another season of Nkandla obsession in the House of Chaos with the #PayBackTheMoney hashtag continuing to trend.

Follow me on Twitter @janetheard

* This article was originally published in 2015 in City Press.

Read more on:    jacob zuma  |  nathi nhleko  |  nkandla

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