The massive Nkandla swindle

Andrew Donaldson says the President's homestead is fast emerging as the perfect metaphor for cadre deployment and patronage

IT was a milestone the South African media chose to ignore but this week at the Mahogany Ridge we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the release of what many music critics have hailed as the greatest single ever and the defining moment in rock culture.

The youngsters were not pleased. “Jeez, do we really have to listen to that again? Like all day?” one of them whined as we stuck Bob Dylan’s Like a Rolling Stone on repeat play. “Yes,” we said. “How does it feel?”

It was one way of getting rid of them, and they raced off pronto to their Kanye and Britney collections to cleanse themselves of old toppie earworms. Once again we had the Ridge to ourselves and were soon able to reflect on the great creative forces that are currently shaping our world.

In Johannesburg, the rapper Reason – real name Sizwe Moeketsi – was mounting a spirited rejoinder to the massive backlash on social media to the cover art of his latest release, Reazus Christ is Cummin’, which features an image of Jesus as some sort of rad dude with sunglasses carrying two naked women on his shoulders. (Note to youngsters: Bob Dylan never did this sort of thing.)

The image, Reason has claimed, was not of Jesus – but rather of himself. It’s a metaphor, he told the Sowetan. “If people are offended by the image . . . then what that tells me is that they are offended by my truth and what I have presented to them as the truth, that I am a child of God like Jesus is but I have so many things around me that paint a picture and make me a bad person,” he added.

How we laughed. But, on a more sombre note, it was greatly concerning that no-one seemed to be too upset at the demeaning way the women were depicted on the cover. Then again, perhaps that is what women want these days. Who can say?

Good news, though, from abroad. According to an art expert, a long-forgotten Irma Stern painting that was being used as a sort of notice board in the kitchen of a London flat is in great condition and is expected to fetch as much as R19-million when it goes on auction in September. 

The 1939 painting, Arab in Black, has a fascinating history. It was donated by the collector Betty Suzman – sister-in-law of opposition politician Helen Suzman – to a charity auction to raise funds for Nelson Mandela and other defendants in the 1956 Treason Trial. 

The news of the Stern discovery happily coincided with the opening on Friday of Iziko SA National Gallery’s major exhibition, Brushing up on Stern. Anyone with a vague interest in South African art should take in this show as soon as possible before the Economic Freedom Fighters march on the gallery and demand that #SternMustFall for her exploitative use of colour and the colonising of her “subjects”. Or something.

Perhaps the week’s most imaginative and creative artistic expressions came from Pietermaritzburg, where MPs from the ruling party sitting on the parliamentary ad hoc committee on Nkandla have been giving us their bold interpretations of their visit to President Jacob Zuma’s home on Wednesday. 

Granted, it was essentially nothing more than the usual suspects trying to convince the gallery that this crippled camel before them was actually a racehorse, but such was the tenor of their impassioned declamations you’d swear that not only did Zuma not benefit in any way, shape or form from the security upgrades, but that he has been the hapless victim of some massive swindle.

Unsurprisingly, public protector Thuli Madonsela has now been accused of misleading the country by labelling her report on the upgrades “Secure in Comfort” because, according to ANC MP Mmamoloko Kubayi, the committee could find no evidence of any comfort whatsoever. It is a rather illogical argument – particularly as we didn’t get to see how the president actually lived when he was at home.

But judging from the photographs the media were permitted to take, you’d think Kubayi did have a point – the greater part of the Nkandla compound appears to be a squalid tip and it’s rather astonishing that a man charged with running the country appears incapable of keeping his modest pile tidy.

Could something not be done about the weeds? And those goats and cows? They seem to pee where they like. Little wonder it would be embarrassing to host heads of state there. They’d be scraping cow patty off their shoes all day.

Still, all is not lost. Nkandla is fast emerging as the perfect metaphor for cadre deployment and patronage. It’s a dump, the president’s houses are plagued, and that is that.

This article first appeared in the Weekend Argus.