Situated between the Tugela (Tukhela) and Mhlatuze rivers about 30 miles northwest of Eshowe, Nkandla is the location of the so-called “sacred forest” of the amaZulu people. This is a place with amazing vegetation and a birdlife of more than 147 species; a place certainly precious to those concerned about nature.
Nkandla crops up throughout the history of the Zulu. In 1879, as may be read in the book AmaBhulu, it became the hiding place of the Zulu King Cetshwayo after his defeat by the British. A group of white Afrikaners, a nation that had carefully maintained peace with the Zulu ever since 1840, went to visit him there and swore to protect his son, Dinizulu. This they did. The British would eventually imprison Dinizulu, but one of the first actions taken by Louis Botha, the first Prime Minister of the new Union of South Africa, would be to free his friend Dinizulu, on whose side Botha had fought. Nkandla is the site of Cetshwayo’s grave. It is said the he still walks the forest. Unfortunately, recent history is rather less romantic, unless of course one considers swimming pools, chicken runs and the pilfering of state coffers to be romantic. The ANC apparently does.
On 4 December 2009, under the title Zuma’s R65M Nkandla splurge, the newspaper Mail & Guardian broke a story that the newly elected State President Jacob Zuma had used taxpayer money to extend his own family home in the Nkandla area. This was the first round fired in an epic farce that would eventually lead to the Constitutional Court of the Republic of South Africa and the censure of its State President. The bill would eventually run to R246M.
Along the way there were some fascinating moments, but we start further back in history:
- During the corruption trial of Zuma’s former financial adviser Schabir Shaik in 2004, the state produces evidence that alleged bribes flowing from French arms firm Thales helped finance the building of Zuma’s Nkandla homestead.
- Two days before the 2009 M&G article, the Department of Public Works of the ANC government denies that there is any construction activities at the president’s home. The presidency similarly denies such activity and states that, in any case, Zuma’s private home is not “the business of the State”.
- By 11 November 2011 it is clear that a network of underground bunkers has been built at Nkandla and that one of the contractors on site employs Zuma’s niece.
- On November 16, 2012 Zuma barefacedly lies to parliament, stating that he has paid for (what has by now become known as just) “Nkandla”.
- Five days later Constitutional law expert, Professor Pierre de Vos, asks Public Protector Thuli Madonsela to probe whether Zuma has breached the executive ethics code by lying to Parliament. The opposition Democratic Alliance soon files a similar request.
- In a hurried attempt to forestall disaster, the Public Works Department reports on 27 January 2013 that it has investigated the matter, that the costs were now $200M; of course it predictably exonerates their party leader and State President Zuma.
- Now follows a period during which the ANC in its various guises tries desperately to stop any report the Public Protector would generate. To her everlasting credit, Madonsela stands firm, even against a collection of Security Ministers.
- By 13 December 2013, an inter-ministerial task team report on the upgrades is released. Naturally, the report exonerates Zuma, saying he did not ask for the upgrades.
- On 19 March 2014 the Public Protector’s report is released. It finds that President Zuma and his family has benefited unduly from upgrades to his Nkandla homestead amounting to R246-million. Madonsela recommends that Zuma repay some of the money spent on the upgrades.
- In the National Election of May 2014 the ANC gains victory despite the revelations about Nkandla. Zuma remains State President The ANC takes the most votes in the Nkandla district. Zuma’s home village, KwaNxamalala, votes 83,57 percent in favour of the ANC. This proves that corruption is rewarded by Democracy in African society. These elections bring the red-uniformed Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party to parliament under Julius Malema.
- Over the following period, the ANC dominated Parliament constitutes an ad-hoc committee to address Nkandla. Along the way, the opposition party walks out on the proceedings. Naturally, the committee comes back exonerating Zuma. The Opposition demands Zuma resigns.
- On February 13, 2015, the red-uniformed EFF disrupts Zuma’s “State of the Union” address, demanding to know “when he will pay back the money”. It is over this period that violence breaks out in parliament and the Police is unconstitutionally called into the building. Ironically, the very civilized Western-oriented DA opposition finds itself on the same side as the Communist oriented red-uniformed EFF. This period is memorable for the parliamentary speech of Ngwanamakwetle Mashabela in which she repeatedly cries out, “Zuma is a Thief!“. The video of the event is surely now a piece of Africana.
- As the farce that is Nkandla lurches forward, the Police Minister reports in June 2015 that the upgrades at Nkandla were for purposes of security and demonstrates how the pool might be used to extinguish a fire. By now, most Western White people in the country are rolling on the ground laughing at this farce, but the ANC devoutly believes it is making sense.
- By October 2015, Madonsela, the EFF, and the Democratic Alliance have all taken the matter to the Constitutional Court.
- FINALLY: One 31 March 2016, more than six years after the outrage started, the Constitutional Court rules that the Public Protector’s report is binding and President Zuma must personally pay back the money to Treasury for non-security upgrades. The President must reprimand the ministers involved as per the Public Protector’s remedial action. The court also finds that the president failed to uphold, defend, and respect the Constitution as supreme law of land by disregarding the Public Protector’s report and the National Assembly did wrong by stepping into the shoes of the Public Protector and replacing Madonsela’s report with its own recommendations. The judgement is unanimous.
South Africa has reached the point where civilized people simply just shake their heads and shrug their shoulders in helpless resignation. Perhaps escape may at least be found in humour. And so we turn to a webpage by the Daily Maverick that lists memorable quotes over the 6-year life of Nkandla thus far. This author thinks the best one of them all is by the 31-year old Inkosi Simphiwe Zuma, of the Nxamalala clan in Impendle:
We must be strong. We knew that when he got appointed that there would be challenges…. If the ANC no longer wants him he must come back and herd his cows. We will always be there for him.
Indeed. Make it so.