‘I can’t say anything about Nkandla, even I can’t defend it’
He sat across from me in a restaurant in Pretoria – a government official I’ve known for many years, a source of many interesting and groundbreaking stories.
“Mandy, you know me, you know I’m a Zuma man through and through. But I can’t say anything about Nkandla, even I can’t defend it,” he blurted out even before I broached the topic.
Nkandlagate – the scandal in which president Jacob Zuma spent R248 million on improving his compound in Nkandla, KwaZulu-Natal – has the thinking part of the Zuma camp in a tight spot.
They’ve managed to survive the love child, the spy tapes and all the other revelations that come with a Zuma presidency.
But on this one they are quiet, letting presidency spokesperson Mac Maharaj mouth off about how the word “compound” is racist, instead of dealing with the substantive issue – why is our president extending his private home to the tune of almost a quarter of a billion rand with taxpayers’ money?
Add to that the economic downgrades, the bleak financial outlook for South Africa for the next few years and the mining crisis that is linked to the labour crisis. It is then not fair to ask: how could such a man be re-elected in Mangaung?
The first answer to the question is that the ANC is not America. Here we pretend to elect leaders who will merely implement what the party says, not go off and make his own decisions. So therefore a delegate is not allowed to point a finger at the president when criticising governance – either in government or the party.
He’s supposed to finger all 88 national executive committee members and the myriad ad hoc members who sit in because of their provincial positions. And no delegate has enough fingers to do that.
But the more realistic reason is that Zuma is a Trojan horse for the countless interests vested in his presidency.
At the Cosatu meeting that decided to endorse Zuma for a second term, the proceedings started with a list of Zuma’s faults, sources say.
They allegedly listed all the mistakes Zuma has made while in power and were, I’m told, very critical of his leadership in general.
But, they concluded, what can Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe – the only other Mangaung option – offer them? Has Motlanthe at any point given them an indication that he would serve their interests the way Zuma said he would?
Has he made it clear he will keep the youth wage subsidy away from the official government policy, as Zuma has managed to do? Has he committed himself to helping the National Union of Mineworkers to get back on its feet after the devastating effects of Marikana?
Motlanthe may be considered one of their own, having been a former general secretary of the NUM, but the relationship they have with Zuma cannot be squandered.
And in Motlanthe you might find a reasonableness that favours capitalism, not socialism.
Like Cosatu, most Zuma lobbyists have their own interests at heart when they spend time, money and energy to convince delegates to go their way. Access to jobs, tenders and the rest may not be as easy under Motlanthe, and whole networks that link government and business may have to be dismantled if Zuma leaves the Union Buildings.
The delegates themselves are sometimes beneficiaries of the Zuma administration, and those who are not, hope to be. No one knows how patronage will work in a Motlanthe administration, so rather the devil you know.
My government official source will keep his million-rand-a-year job, and maybe have access to bigger things, if he continues to find favour with the big man.
Zuma’s actions can no longer be justified, he will sigh, and take another bite from his overpriced steak.
» Mandy Rossouw is the author of Manguang: Kings and Kingmakers