The offence itself was bad enough – an orgy of overspending by obsequious officials and conniving contractors who managed to spend 246m rand ($21.7m, £14.3m) of public money lavishly upgrading South African President Jacob’s Zuma’s private homestead, Nkandla.
That is nearly 10 times what taxpayers spent on Nelson Mandela’s two homes, and 20 times what it cost to secure Thabo Mbeki’s house.
As we now know, Mr Zuma’s “essential security upgrades” included a swimming pool, an amphitheatre, a chicken run and a visitors’ centre. A fairly humble collection of traditional buildings on a rural hillside has been transformed into something more like a luxury holiday resort.
But as is so often the case in politics, it is the cover up – long, venomous, hair-splitting and sanctimonious – that has been most revealing, and most depressing.
Video demonstrates how Nkandla fire pool works
Some of Mr Zuma’s closest advisers – those with an eye on image and votes, rather than on real or imaginary security concerns – were urging him from the very beginning to apologise for any errors and to volunteer immediately to pay for any unwarranted expenditure.
The scandal could have ended in a week, and the president could even have emerged with his status enhanced.
Gareth Cliff’s President Zuma Rant
“You are a slave with a new master”
Police Minister Nathi Nhleko has defended the fire pool at President Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla homestead‚ following on his department’s investigation into the upgrades.
These included the firepoool/swimming pool‚ the amphitheatre‚ the visitor’s centre and the new kraal and chicken run.
Nhleko‚ who is still making the presentation‚ has outlined the following regarding the firepool:
-The proximity of the huts to one another and their thatched roofs means that fire would be difficult to control should it occur.
-The initial SAPS police security study found that firefighting equipment would need to be placed on site in case of a fire.
-Firefighting experts tested the water pressure and found that “an open water source is best for firefighting and nothing could be better than the pool or dam“.
-A test was done in February this year. The local fire brigade took one hour and 10 minutes to arrive. Suction from the pool worked better than the hydrants‚ which did not have sufficient water pressure.
-The water supply to Nkandla is erratic‚ has low pressure and often runs out.
Media were shown a video of the firefighting exercise which included dramatic music‚ a call to the firestation and the arrival of the firefighters with small‚ leaking pumps and firefighting hoses which resembled hosepipes.
MUST WATCH – President Zuma jokes about Nkandla in Parliament
Only Zuma can atone for Nkandla waste – Financial Mail
THAT IT has become a monument to all that is wrong in the country’s moral compass is undeniable, but what has been given scant attention in the ensuing discussion about President Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla residential complex is what it portends for our future.
The ANC and government spin doctors may try to present this as an administrative oversight but such vanity projects say much about the quality and nature of a country’s leadership. Nkandla sends out a clear message of personal and political self-centredness, a collapse of ethics as a requirement for leadership and a population that is getting used to living with the unconscionable.
Yet, behind all the events themselves and the drama of their release lies a more insidious problem: a culture that says doing the right thing in government could well be career-limiting, while supporting the personal agenda of the president is necessarily career-enhancing whether or not it involves doing the wrong thing. It is typical of tyrannical states and within kingdoms, where serving the leaders overrides morality or even logic.
This is the worst kind of corruption because it is pervasive and inescapable, but cannot really be traced. The same kind of dynamic was also evident in the illegal landing at Waterkloof air force base of guests for a wedding involving the Gupta family, friends of the president.
All that was required, for evil to be done, was the perception among civil servants that they would be wise to implement that which they perceived would be pleasing to their leader. Whether it was or not is largely irrelevant. In such an environment, the sanctions for noncompliance are not specified either verbally or in writing, but they are arguably all the more powerful for that.
There is another unseen evil at work here too. Politicians struggle to appreciate how incidents like Nkandla subvert the national dialogue. We cannot have a meaningful conversation about lifting millions from poverty when we have such offensive distractions as Nkandla.