South Africa

Op-Ed: Four Billion more reasons for an Unhappy Nation

By Stephen Grootes 10 November 2015

In politics there are times when warning bells sound, but because of their tone, or the fact they are somehow muffled, no one reacts. No one necessarily cares when a new Constitutional Court judge is appointed, for example, even though that could be part of a real shift in power. But sometimes, the bell is rung a little louder, and people are actually listening. Such as when a sitting president says that his party is more important than the country. Sometimes there are signals so loud, so obvious, so intensely obnoxious, that everyone sees them, understands them, and gets upset about them. The purchase of a new R4bn plane for the president is just that kind of signal. A signal that Number One simply does not care for you, me, or anyone else. Even his own party. By STEPHEN GROOTES.

Politics is often irrational. That is because people are irrational, and politics is about managing them, which is why it’s always more art than science. But we all understand when we are being lied to, no matter which words are employed. The ANC president, Jacob Zuma, and all of our Cabinet can shout and scream until they are blue in the face, we know that Nkandla was about Zuma’s house, and nothing else. We all know that blue light brigades are about VIP bling. We all know that jamming cell phones in the National Assembly was nothing to do with security. We all know that Marikana massacre was not about self-defence.

And so, we all know that the imminent purchase of a new presidential jet, for around R4bn is just a flying extension of the Presidential ego. No matter what words are used to justify it, or which purchase architect will eventually be hung out to dry, or however Mr Zuma distances himself this time. We all know that he wants this plane.

What’s absolutely staggering is how he, and the people around him, clearly believe that they will get away with it. That no one is going to understand or react, that there will be no consequence for him, or anyone else involved, save for people promoted to rank of Ambassador. It is almost as if last year’s election results don’t matter to Zuma, as if there is not a local government election next year. It is the kind of action a President for life would take; the belief that they have to always travel in this kind of style, with a flying bathroom, bedroom, conference room etc. We would say that it is as if government money is actually Zuma’s money. Nkandla has already taught us that this is in fact the case.

Five or six years ago, if this had happened, there could have been a strong justification for it. We have a long and sad history when it comes to VIP airplanes. It started, funnily enough, with then Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngucka, who was found to be using a charted plane, at vast expense, to go to the United Arab Emirates. In the ensuing ruckus, she claimed she had been there to look at crane-related opportunities for women – to general laughter. At the time we were promised a new comprehensive strategy to deal with this problem, by the then Defence Minister, Mosuia Lekota, who has since shuffled onto other things.

A few years later, in 2009, it emerged that a plane carrying then Deputy President, Kgalema Motlanthe, was forced to land on a remote airstrip in the Democratic Republic of Congo, as it was running low on fuel. A group of armed soldiers surrounded the plane, before one of them had to be allowed on. It must have been a scary moment. And since then, there has, every few months or so, been claim that it cost several million rand a time, to ferry Zuma and his entourage to various places around the world.

All of this should mean that there is actually a strong justification to fix this problem, once and for all; buy a brand spanking new plane if you have to, but do it once-off, stop the leasing of planes, and basically fix it. But we have to look at the context, at the prior behaviour of Zuma. There is nothing in his previous conduct to suggest that he would want to do this to save us, the nation, money. Nothing to show that he, in fact, has our best interests at heart. Saying that his party is more important than the country, is not the conduct of someone who does take his nation seriously. Spending over R250m on his home, and then claiming not to have noticed, does not have the consequence of inspiring confidence. Having friends land at a national air force base, and then appointing the person who arranged it as an ambassador, does not make a cynical nation think that you believe in accountability.

It is one thing for the average citizen to be annoyed. Think about the schools that could have been built, the patients who could have been treated, or the students whose fees could have been paid, for that same amount. But have a thought for your average ANC member; a person who has worked hard for the party over the years. Who has knocked on doors, walked through wards, and coordinated rallies, to be met with this kind of arrogance, this kind of kick in the teeth.

To think of all the votes that this will cost you, of how it is going to be used on the campaign trail against you. To think of how difficult it is going to motivate people to put up posters featuring that Four Billion Rand Smile. And then to think of how the person, the man who claimed to be “of the people”, who promised a consultative government, who said that he would not be aloof like that “Clever Black” Mbeki, has turned his back on all of that. And to know that he is going to be in charge of the country for another four years. It must simply be heart-breaking. DM

Photo: President Jacob Zuma speaks at the ANCYL National Conference, 26 November 2013. (Greg Nicolson)



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