If we didn't know better we may be forgiven for thinking that the Nkandla story is the script straight out of a bad soap opera. First of all, the Minister of Public Works, Thulas Nxesi tells us that government is funding the roughly R240-million upgrade. Then President Zuma informs us that this is incorrect and that his family has paid for the lavish compound. When this is queried, he tells parliament that he has a bond on the property and a Durban businessman, Vivian Reddy, admits to helping the president secure a small bond to finance the first stage of the development. Reddy has defended the amount being spent and reportedly stated that the outcry against the development was nothing more than a political stunt. It was also noted in the same report that Nkandla had to look good as ‘we can't have the president living in a cheap rondavel; it must be befitting of his office’.
While nobody would expect a President to be housed in a traditional African dwelling like a rondavel, the amount spent and the scale of the build have caused a massive outcry.
Regardless of what we have been told, there are still numerous questions surrounding the private home of our President. According to a number of reports, a bond of R900 000 was raised for the first phase of the development - a mere drop in the ocean of the R240-million that has been spent on the lavish homestead.
Zuma has also claimed that he was ignorant about the costs associated with the development. However, emails have been found that clearly show he was kept in the loop and should have been fully aware of the large amounts being spent on his home.
The international press has been having a field day with the story and in a recent report in the Daily Mail, it was noted that the amount spent was a few million short of the £19-million in aid that British taxpayers send to South African on an annual basis. The disparaging report highlights the fact that this country is wracked by poverty, with some 13 million people surviving on less than £1 a day and two million having no access to a toilet. Is the report sensationalised? Probably. Has the report, and countless similar articles, portrayed this country in a bad light? Definitely.
Government has all but clammed up and is refusing to answer increasingly more probing questions, saying that two investigations, one by the Auditor General and the other by a task team set up by public works, are currently underway. One is to investigate the massive spend at Nklandla and the other is investigating whether there was a breach of parliamentary spending rules. The question is, of course, why the matter is only being investigated after the fact and why the go-ahead was given to undertake a project that was bound to cause an uproar around the world in the first place?
One thing is for sure - the facts surrounding Nkandlagate are not going to be able to be swept under the carpet and as South Africans wait for the investigations to be completed, we can be pretty sure that the rest of the world will be watching carefully and forming their own opinions.