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Sunday, August 2, 2015

The house that Zuma built

Nathi Nhleko shows a video of the fire pool to the media
President Jacob Zuma is right. There is an obsession with Nkandla Nkandla Nkandla. Discussing “the house of one man” as he puts it, has become tedious. It is a distraction from the myriad challenges that hammer the lives of millions of South Africans on a daily basis.
There has been no escaping Nkandla since the start of the fifth parliament over a year ago. The Nkandla lexicon sneaks into everything from the energy crisis and poor service delivery to meaningful debates about job creation and combatting corruption. It is the elephant in the room in both houses of parliament and even committee rooms. Over the past few weeks it has filtered into debates on the government departments’ crucial budget votes. 
Nkandla has split parliament in two – with the 62% majority party having a tough time deflecting the relentless – and sometimes infantile - attacks on their president.
Nkandla has been a trigger for the deterioration of parliamentary behaviour in the past year, with mutual disrespect and unhealthy anger building between the ANC and opposition benches. Last week, for instance, the house was rescued from chaos with the announcement of a 15-minute “comfort break” after DA chief whip John Steenhuisen accused deputy Trade & Industry Minister Mzwandile Masina of mouthing to DA MPs the words: “I will f***you up.”  Nkandla was not the spark, but the row over “the house of one man” has helped to breed this rough pub-like culture of foul mouths and rude finger gestures in parliament.
It is now 14 months since the ever-patient public protector Thuli Madonsela found that Zuma had unduly benefitted from the R246m upgrades to his private home. So like many Nkandla-fatigued, yet ever-optimistic South Africans, I was looking forward to a breakthrough in the impasse last week.
Here was a golden opportunity for police Minister Nkosinathi Nhleko to determine an amount that Zuma owed for non-security features at Nkandla. A gesture would probably satisfy former ANC MP Ben Turok who warned months ago that the country was “sick to death” of Nkandla and accused his party of a lack of wisdom on the way it had handled the controversy. “I would say fair is fair.  … I would say, come on be a sport, pay something,” was his advice to Zuma.
Nhleko had an opportunity to put the embarrassing Nkandla scandal to rest, so that our multi-party parliament could get down to the serious business of building democracy together and tackling the growing jobs crisis which was brought into sharp focus last week.
Anticipation built up ahead of the 7pm Wednesday press briefing, with two reminder notices being issued to the media (like journalists would forget). The hype increased when the briefing was abruptly postponed for 24 hours, only to be shifted forward the following morning to 1.30pm.
Minutes before, news leaked on Twitter that Nhleko had determined that Zuma did not have to pay back a cent. The full farce of the 50-page Nhleko report unfolded in the Zuma-owes-Zero press conference, which included Wikipedia references and amateur damage control video demonstrations to the gentle backing track of the Neapolitan “O Sole Mio”.
Of course, Nhleko’s “f*** you” to the public protector, his announcement that the questionable features at Nkandla were actually security features and that more money needed to be spent to complete security at Zuma’s home should not have taken anyone by surprise. It was na├»ve to expect anything different from a Minister who had been tasked by his own boss to investigate the liability of - his own boss. 
Now, thanks to Nhleko’s whitewash, we can be assured of yet another season of Nkandla obsession in the house of chaos with the #paybackthemoney hashtag continuing to trend.
This article was first published in Media 24 publications on 31 May 2015

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