Nkandla: a national disgrace

Untold millions are being spent on President Jacob Zuma’s homestead amidst grinding rural poverty.

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Almost every week in this column, I write about the issues faced by communal land farmers and how the land tenure system prevents them from reaching their full potential. Because of the system, these farmers are unable to borrow money from commercial banks in order to grow their operations.

So it was something of a shock to hear that President Jacob Zuma had obtained a bond on his Nkandla homestead estimated at R250 million from a commercial bank. According to Zuma, he had extended his R900 000 bond – which already has question marks after it – to that amount. The problem, though, is that the land on which the Nkandla homestead is built is communal. This means that the president does not own it, so theoretically he cannot get a loan.

Either the president is being dishonest about who is paying for the construction of the house, or the banks were not being fair when it came to their lending policies. If the latter, there are obviously people who can get bonds on communal land and people who cannot. Frankly, I find it difficult to believe that he did obtain a mortgage from the bank, especially after reading a Mail & Guardian article quoting a response from First National Bank (FNB).

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“FNB does not grant home loans to individual applicants for housing developments that are carried out on tribal land, as the properties are not held under separate title. FNB cannot register a bond over the individual homes,” said Jan Kleynhans, chief executive of FNB Home Loans, in a written response to questions.

This leaves us with the alternative: that taxpayers are footing the bill. Unsurprisingly, this was swiftly denied by the Department of Public Works and the president. If it is true, we really have to be worried. To begin with, we should be concerned if the first citizen can stand up in parliament and tell a brazen lie to us all. I’m not saying he did, of course; only Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s investigation will provide answers on what really happened.

More concerning is the sheer scale of the money involved. It’s almost impossible to believe that so much could be spent on a single home when so many people in this country go to bed hungry at night. Or live in dilapidated pondoks. Or have to travel endless kilometres to visit a clinic. Or have to watch their children being educated in broken-down, overcrowded rural schools.
In particular, I wonder how many hectares could have been developed with this money – turning it into productive land to feed and employ people.

Delayed projects
While the Nkandla construction continues, we’ve heard nothing about the Masibambisane Presidential Project, a rural development initiative. The project was meant to be rolled out to other provinces, yet the launch in Taung in North West has been cancelled three times. And there are evidently problems with the Presidential Comprehensive Rural Development Project in Muyexe. The president’s private home quite clearly takes precedence over everything – and everyone – else.

So much for a better life for all!