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In this opinion piece, Mondli Makhanya winds back the clock to the turn of the century, a time when the first ground was dug on Nkandla. And it’s a gut-wrenching piece looking at the intricacies of a project which gave birth to the phrase: ‘pay back the money’. It is also a project that epitomises the Zuma leadership, riddled with corruption and all that’s wrong with South Africa at the moment. They say a legacy is always defined by an event and this event is a major detraction from all that’s good in South Africa. A change in leadership would be the first step, but paying back the money would go a lot further – but then again that would confirm guilt. But three years is a long time to wait, and a lot more damage can be done in that time. – Stuart Lowman
from Mondli Makhanya, City Press
In order for us to understand why a lonely goat was found hiding in a R6 million rondavel this week, why Parliament has become paralysed, and why adults are making fools of themselves daily defending fire pools and cattle culverts, we have to go back to the beginning.
The beginning is the turn of the century – when then deputy president Jacob Zuma began constructing the compound that would later become South Africa’s monument to corruption. It was a rough time for Zuma, who was trying to create a decent abode for himself and his large brood, but was kind of hard up for cash.
So he did what he does best: he hit the road and went selling political favours.
One of his targets was Schabir Shaik, then a wannabe tycoon with a tendency for taking shortcuts to the high life.
This Shaik fellow, who had somehow inveigled himself into ANC inner circles as a result of his family’s struggle credentials (his own struggle credentials were nonexistent), had years earlier convinced Zuma that he could be his financial adviser.
What Zuma did not know was that Shaik wanted to take advantage of the burden that Zuma had created for himself through his habit of siring a child every rainy season. He knew he could use this to create a master-servant dependency.
At the time, Shaik was making romantic eyes with French arms company Thomson-CSF (later renamed Thales), which had secured a piece of South Africa’s multibillion-rand arms deal. Having picked up intelligence that Thomson-CSF wanted a BEE partner, Shaik put forward the name of his own Nkobi Holdings.
But the French were not fully cognisant of South Africa’s definition of black and were a little confused that this proposed BEE partner was neither a Khumalo, a Mokoena nor a Nevhutalu. So, as in other instances in which he had needed to prove his BEE status, Shaik sent his errand boy to do the convincing.
The errand boy, as always, obediently did as he was told. After several requests for meetings, which he asked for under pressure from his master, he finally got to meet the French after the conclusion of an official visit to the UK.
This meeting was to prove strategic to Thomson-CSF, which would later need high-level protection from prosecution for its part in arms deal-related corruption. At his master’s behest, Zuma – who was now deputy president of the republic – readily offered this protection in return for some lucre.
The Faustian pact was made in a Durban meeting in March 2000 when Thomson–CSF executive Alain Thetard promised Zuma an “effort” of R500 000 a year in return for protection.
Which brings us to the genesis of South Africa’s most famous residence.
Mpumalanga businesswoman Nora Fakude-Nkuna kick-started the project in February 2000 when her company, Bohlabela Wheels, paid architects R34 000 to design the residence.
Over the course of the year, she paid another R140 000, in tranches of R100 000 and R40 000, to developer Eric Malengret. The reasons for her generosity are not clear, but some scurrilous individuals have alleged that whenever Zuma visited his then Swazi fiancée Sebentile Dlamini, he would stop over at Fakude-Nkuna’s Mpumalanga home for a rest, and do the same on his way back.
In October 2000, Zuma ran into a cash crunch, at which point he began to harass Shaik for money to support the construction project. Businessman Vivian Reddy – who, just like Shaik, played the political access game like an ace – paid Malengret some money to keep the project going. Irritated by Zuma’s harassment and the ballooning costs of the project, Shaik ordered Malengret to stop construction, saying: “Does Zuma think money grows on trees?”
Despite this, Shaik harassed the French for Zuma’s annual “effort”, which was now desperately needed for construction to continue. In one letter, Shaik, who was clearly getting exasperated by Zuma’s nagging and Thomson-CSF’s tardiness, wrote to Thetard: “Kindly expedite our arrangement as soon as possible as matters are becoming extremely urgent with my client.”
The “effort” arrived in the form of convoluted transactions, which were clearly designed to hide the fact that it was a bribe. A now happy Zuma continued doing favours for his friends and making trips to Swaziland with the obligatory rest stops in Mpumalanga.
In 2002, long after the completion of the project, Zuma applied for a R900 000 bond through FNB with the assistance of Reddy, his other sugar daddy.
Then, in 2009, with the assistance of the ANC, Zuma applied for a bond from the people of South Africa. This bond was unique in that no repayment instalments were required, another world first for South African banking innovation.
Because of this unique nature of the loan, the bondholder kept drawing on it until the cost of the R2 million property escalated to R246 million.
And that is how we got here – this bad place where no conversation is complete without at least one mention of Nkandla.
The Nkandla project was born out of corruption and grubby politics. So it should be no surprise that it has come to be emblematic of all that is wrong, corrupt, dirty, unethical and morally decrepit in South Africa.
In its wake, this hurricane has left a trail of destruction and claimed many victims. It has destroyed institutions and professional lives. It has diverted attention from pertinent challenges that face a country that has to deal with poverty, unemployment and associated social ills on the back of 1.8% economic growth.
But one of the most corroding effects of Nkandla is that it has spawned an army of liars. This army has been mobilised inside the state, in Parliament, in the governing party and in greater society
Its mission is to manufacture lies to protect the resident of the estate. The lies have grown bigger and become more unbelievable as the crisis has escalated. They have become more ridiculous as the indefensible has become more indefensible.
In the end, like all structures with shaky foundations, the Nkandla mountain of lies will come crashing down.
*This article first appeared on City Press