Fire pools & other extravagant upgrades

Private Property South Africa
Lea Jacobs

It’s pretty obvious that the saga surrounding Nkandla is going to haunt the President for years to come. Regardless of who is to blame, who knew what, and who opened the very large cheque book, all eyes are going to remain fixed on the person who lives in the home.

As President Jacob Zuma’s home in Nkandla continues to make headlines, here’s a lighter look at the goings-on in the small (previously unheard of) place in rural Zululand and the palatial home built there.

While some may say that the “security” upgrades at Nkandla were a little on the extreme side, things could have been a lot worse had those who demanded the extras fully realised what money really can buy.

Mania in Mumbai

The good news is that the President’s “pad” is not the most expensive home in the world. That accolade belongs to a property named Antilla in Mumbai. Owned by the Ambani family, the home has been valued at $1-billion – please don’t ask me to do the maths on that …

Before going any further, I would like to suggest that the name Nkandla sounds far more romantic than Antilia, which suggests that the residents wear scary-looking masks and walk around carrying enormous cans of insecticide.

Unlike President Zuma’s home that supposedly only features one elevator from the underground bunker, the Ambani home, which comprises a 27-story building, has nine. While most of us struggle to furnish a three bedroom, two bathroom home, it is worth remembering that not all 24 floors of Antilia are used for residential purposes. Six floors have been reserved as parking space.

Healthy living

Nothing much has really been said about the health facilities at Nkandla (a fire pool doesn’t really fit the bill). Well, the Ambanis have apparently dedicated a complete story to helping them keep fit and healthy. In addition to the swimming (not fire) pool and the yoga studio, this area also includes an ice room where the family can experience the cooling benefits of snow all year round. Given that Mumbai is a pretty warm place, one suspects that this could well be the most-used room in the home.

It’s probably not really fair to compare Nkandla to Antilia. For starters, the Mumbai property does not feature a retaining wall that looks sort of like an amphitheatre, a cattle kraal or a tuck shop, and obviously cost a lot more to build than the few “security upgrades” ended up costing the South African taxpayer.

Heat’s on at Updown

Updown (who comes up with these names?) Court in England could perhaps be a better comparison. The 103-room mansion is set in 58 acres of prime English countryside and features a heated marble driveway that cost an estimated £2-million (approximately R29-million) to install. What is surprising about this home is that although it was completely rebuilt in 1987 after being destroyed in a devastating fire, not one of the five swimming pools has been designated as a fire pool. It does however, feature a panic room (which could possibly be compared to an underground bunker), which is undoubtedly used by the owner every month when the mortgage is due, considering that the owner paid £35-million (around R652-million) for the home in 2011.

On a different note completely, it seems that money doesn’t buy everything, least of all common sense. Candy Spelling, the widow of the famous television producer, Aaron, once stated that the reason her former home, The Manor, which measures a paltry 57 000 square feet, (roughly 17 373m²) “got so big” was that she didn’t understand the scale of the blueprints and kept enlarging rooms that looked too small.

Perhaps this type of confusion plagued those who were in charge of the upgrades at Nkandla and while the size of the compound may not be the issue here, the cost of the “improvements” certainly is. After all, R2.6-million for a fire pool does seem a little extreme.

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