All the fire-pool fairytales and rubber-stamping of the cost of President Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla homestead add up to one big lie
These images could have just been about two ladies taking time to paint their nails. An innocent, uncontroversial act of pleasure.
But it is not. It is a picture of South Africa’s descent into an amoral society that does not know the difference between right and wrong. It is about how the Nkandla scandal numbed our moral senses.
The two women in this picture are senior members of Parliament who led the governing ANC’s defence of President Jacob Zuma on the Nkandla matter.
Doris Dlakude and Mamoloko Kubayi were painting their nails during a lengthy, heated session of Parliament’s ad-hoc committee on Nkandla.
While members of opposition parties were arguing for Zuma to be held accountable, the two could not be bothered to pay attention.
They already knew that their party would use its majority to bulldoze a decision in favour of the president.
This was the story of the Nkandla saga from inception. Think back to 2010 when the story first hit the headlines. Back then the cost was R67 million – already an overshoot of about R40 million of what was initially supposed to be spent.
The response of the ANC and the government was one of “couldn’t care less”. As the costs escalated and the matter grew into a scandal, the conscience of the powers were not pricked.
Instead of being appalled, they rallied to the defence of the man on whom the millions were being wasted. When Public Protector Thuli Madonsela began investigating, she became the target of ANC venom.
And when her Secure in Comfort report was released, she became Mrs Lucifer in the eyes of the party leadership and large sections of its membership.
Vast resources – in the form of pupil, money and time – have been mobilised in recent years in defence of Nkandla spending.
At every point of defeat – and there were many in this futile battle – the government and the ruling party agreed to minimal compliance and urged the public to move on.
Following the Constitutional Court’s majestic ruling earlier this year, the best that the ANC could say to South Africa was that Zuma’s apology should be accepted and the chapter closed.
The reaction this week by the ruling party to the acceptance of the Constitutional Court of the Treasury’s determination on how much Zuma must pay, was exactly in that mould.
Welcoming the court’s acceptance, the ANC emphasised the Constitutional Court’s role as the “final arbiter on all matters before it”.
“We trust therefore that its decisions will continue to be respected by all,” the party said. This was basically a polite way of saying everybody should shut up about Nkandla.
This is pretty much like those whites who keep saying now that apartheid is off the statute books, we should no longer talk about it.
Expecting South Africa to forget about the Nkandla saga because the subject is inconvenient for the governing elite simply does not wash.
The reason we cannot stop talking about apartheid is because its impact was deep and longlasting. It damaged minds, bodies and souls.
The reason we cannot stop talking about Nkandla and the president’s role in the saga is because its impact on the body politic and the morality of our state has been very deep.
Set aside the fact that the project was born of corruption, with the intention of the construction being to launder a bribe that a French arms company wanted to pay to Zuma for protection from a criminal investigation.
We should just concentrate on the post-2009 developments where a president, his ministers and his runners pickpocketed R246 million from the South African taxpayer.
We should look and talk about the schemes that were devised to fleece that money from the public purse. We should talk about the president’s witting connivance with these schemes, even as the scandal was playing out publicly.
The critical thing to keep in mind is that the Nkandla saga cut deeper than the pocket. A major aspect of the effort to protect the president was the manufacturing of a big lie.
The chief lie manufacturer in the whole saga was a man called Thulas Nxesi, the Minister of Public Works. It was he, long before the coming of the sweaty Nathi Nhleko who read us the fire-pool fairytales.
It was he who tried to pull wool over the public’s eyes with fantastical tales of chicken runs, cattle culverts and grassy amphitheatres on the lawns of the Nkandla compound.
Nhleko perfected the big lie and sprayed cheap perfume over it. He assembled teams of liars to give us the lie in 3D. National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete tried her damndest to turn the National Assembly into a parliament of liars.
Ably assisting her was former ANC chief whip Stone Sizani and mumbo-jumbo-spewing Mathole Motshekga. Kubayi and Dlakude were the ground enforcers of this effort to turn the hallowed house into a theatre of liars.
Around the country, structures of the ANC were also being turned into lying forums. The National Executive Committee would emerge from lengthy meetings with statements endorsing the big lie and urging the party faithful and the general citizenry to accept it.
The national leadership would then be parroted by the leagues, the provincial executive committees and the ANC’s friends in the Tripartite Alliance.
In propagating the lie, the South African Communist Party suspended its beliefs in the principles of communism.
Leaders of the Congress of South African Trade Unions were even willing to sacrifice the unity of the workers’ movement in defence of the lie.
When the lie met its death in the chambers of the Constitutional Court, there was no remorse from those who birthed it. There was no recognition that they had vandalised our morality.
In order for South Africa to recover from this vandalism, we cannot simply move on.
The vandals, including the chief one, need to acknowledge the role they played in the sordid saga.
The nation will need an ongoing truth commission on the matter so that we never again allow our institutions, our souls and our morality to be undermined in such a fundamental way.
If we do not, we will descend into that amoral society that is devoid of conscience – a society that paints its nails in the midst of crisis.