South Africa

It all comes back to Nkandla: Day of reckoning on presidential upgrades

By Ranjeni Munusamy 13 November 2014

President Jacob Zuma will be on the other side of the globe with the world’s most powerful leaders at the G20 summit in Brisbane when the Nkandla ad hoc committee report will be debated in Parliament on Thursday. The last time the issue came up in the National Assembly, a ruckus ensued and riot police were called in. The ANC and opposition parties have two distinctively different conclusions on the Nkandla upgrades, as evidenced in respective reports on the matter. The scene is set for a fiery debate in Parliament, and a new bout of cynicism and frustration from the public. Nkandla remains a festering boil that will not go away. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.

The television footage shows mayhem as police fire rubber bullets at people running for cover. It is not an unusual scene in South Africa, but a new development sparked this particular clash between a community and the police on Wednesday afternoon. These are residents of Nellmapius in Pretoria who were attempting a land grab, supposedly endorsed by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). Those interviewed explain their frustration with waiting for houses and why they decided to take matters – and land – into their own hands.

One man interviewed says: “Mr Jacob Zuma, if he doesn’t want us to live here, it is better that we go and stay with him at Nkandla.”

This is the problem with Nkandla, which the ANC’s neatly packaged response does not speak to. The poor resent what Nkandla represents because the splashing out of R246 million of state money thumbs a nose at their suffering and deprivation. The middle class resent it because their hard-earned tax money paid for it. The rich resent it because how dare Jacob Zuma compete with what they have. Nkandla is now the common reference point for all that is wrong in our society.

But the ANC seems not to see it that way. For them, the Nkandla hullabaloo is simply a ploy by the opposition and the media to discredit the president. The ad hoc committee on Nkandla, made up of only ANC MPs after the opposition walked out claiming the purpose was a whitewash, has therefore been primarily focused on shielding the president and finding someone else to blame. Former Cabinet ministers and state employees are being made to shoulder the burden, while Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s finding that Zuma unduly benefitted from the upgrades has been rejected.

To add insult to injury, the issue of undue benefit is being referred to Cabinet to determine. Zuma is the head of Cabinet and appoints everyone in it. It is simply preposterous to expect that the executive can come up with a dispassionate assessment on the matter. The ad hoc committee also effectively overturned Madonsela’s finding that Zuma violated the Executive Ethics Code by not safeguarding state resources. Their contention is that Zuma was blissfully unaware of the inflated costs and non-security features being built at his private home.

The committee has recommended that Zuma take “appropriate action” against those in the executive who failed in their responsibilities either through “complacency or negligence” on the project. Perhaps the most mind-blowing outcome of the process is the concern that despite the exorbitant amount of money spent on the project, the president might still not be safe at his homestead. The ad hoc committee wants the State Security Agency to conduct an assessment of the security measures to ensure Zuma’s safety.

The ANC seems to believe that the outcome of the ad hoc committee process, which received no witness evidence, will somehow pacify the public desire for accountability and justice. The committee was bold enough to undermine Madonsela’s findings without giving her the opportunity to explain them.

The ANC Chief Whip’s office said they “echo[ed]” the committee’s findings and that “all persons responsible for the loss of state funds should be held accountable and the law should take its course”. With regard to the complaints by the opposition that the process was a sham, the ANC said: “It is bizarre that those who voluntarily walked out of their constitutional obligations in the committee and missed a valuable opportunity to contribute to the report would now cry foul regarding its contents.”

In complete disregard to public perception that the ANC had made a mockery of the process, the Chief Whip’s office said: “We commend the ad hoc committee members for diligence, thoroughness and openness with which they fulfilled their mandate.”

This is obviously an indication of the approach the ANC will take in the debate in the House on Thursday afternoon. It also means that Speaker Baleka Mbete is in for another difficult session in the hot seat as in all likelihood the opposition will come with guns blazing to rubbish the ANC’s report.

On Wednesday, seven opposition parties released their own report on the Nkandla matter and announced their intention to drive Zuma out of office. Democratic Alliance parliamentary leader Mmusi Maimane said they would move that the opposition report be tabled in Parliament “to counter the ANC version”.

“The fact that our president has not said a single word to account for the obscene amounts of money ploughed into his private home should disgrace the ANC immensely. In our view, no outcome on the Nkandla scandal where the ANC is prosecutor, judge and jury for President Zuma can have any validity,” Maimane said.

Freedom Front MP Corne Mulder said what the ANC was doing amounted to “trying to market toothpaste with a garlic flavour”. “It’s rather difficult,” Mulder said.

The parties said they believed they had a case in law to challenge the outcome of the ad hoc committee process. They also believe that they can make a case for Zuma’s removal from office on the grounds that he “violated the Constitution by failing to assist and protect the Public Protector as is required by section 181(3) and (4) of the Constitution, and by manifestly failing to discharge his responsibilities by failing to uphold the Constitution and all laws of the Republic”.

They also want Zuma to be ordered by Parliament to pay back a reasonable percentage of the costs of the upgrades, as recommended by the Public Protector.

Of course that is never going to happen. The ANC is already arguing that the opposition report is illegitimate and questioning how it was compiled. The ANC chief whip’s office said that while the ad hoc committee process had been open and transparent, the basis and source of the opposition report could not be proven.

The scene is set for another massive showdown over Nkandla. While the ANC will win the day in Parliament and probably get the ad hoc committee report adopted, they are now further than ever from winning over public opinion on the matter.

In the past, the arms deal had been upheld as the ANC government’s biggest cause of shame. Nkandla is, however, in its own league in terms of how state funds were brazenly spent in violation of laws and regulations, as well as the cover-up afterwards. One thing the ANC should have learnt from the arms deal saga is that no matter how long you drag the process out and ruin the institutions of democracy in trying cover up the scandal, it never quite goes away.

While Zuma might be far away from the face-off now, the Nkandla cloud keeps hovering over him wherever he goes, and for the duration of his presidency. And this, too, will be his enduring legacy.

The ANC has one last chance in the debate on Thursday to change this and do the right thing. Sadly, it will not. DM

Main pic: Open and shut case? Police officers close the doors of parliament in Cape Town, after members of Julius Malema’s opposition Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) refused to leave the chamber while chanting “pay back the money” at President Jacob Zuma, REUTERS/Mike Hutchings)



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