The direction of funds towards Nkandla speaks to a deeper malaise in our leaders, who are bent on satisfying their own needs, writes Verashni Pillay.
A strangely shaped road is being built in KwaZulu-Natal. It runs from the coal-mining town of Vryheid in the north of the province, dips down into a valley to cross the Tugela river, and winds its way out again, to Kranskop in the south.
It runs a relatively straight path between the two towns, as roads tend to do,encompassing as it goes various villages that happen to be along the way. Nqutu. Silutshana. Qudeni.
But about 140km into its meander, the proposed road behaves rather oddly. Just past Qudeni, instead of completing the final stretch to Kranskop, the road turns suddenly to the left and makes a detour to Nkandla. Then it returns the 20 or so kilometres to carry on its journey as if nothing surprising had happened.
The planned detour sticks out of the road's proposed route like a spare limb; an unexplained anomaly that is a clear drain on resources.
Speaking of unexplained and pricey anomalies, the new road happens to lead to our president's private residence in Nkandla, the upgrade of which is costing the taxpayer more than R200-million. There are also plans to build a R2-billion town close to the village and a R582-million face-lift on roads leading to Nkandla, according to investigative reports.
The road is probably a necessary construction. The current gravel path becomes almost unusable during the rains that regularly drench the area.
A map of the planned route
But the same could probably be said for many other rural areas throughout this unevenly resourced country. In the hilly Transkei, for instance, villagers must traverse rocky and sandy paths that narrow to little more than a footpath in many places, negotiating their way around herds of cattle as they go.
But this little area of KwaZulu-Natal is different. The first town being built in post-apartheid South Africa and its attendant roads just happen to fall in an area that has the second largest number of ANC branches in the province. This from a province that in itself is sending the most delegates to the ANC's elective conference in Mangaung in December. And nearby there is Jacob Zuma's own sprawling compound (that racist word).
You wouldn't think this is for a man with an election to win at the end of the year. But for many of our leaders there is never too busy or important a time for a casual detour here and there to attend their own needs, and then it's back to business as usual.
Very little gives them pause for thought. Not the casual horror of the Marikana massacre or the depressing economic downgrades that followed. Our ruling party used to be close to the people they were elected by. Now it's par for the course to strike out on their own, using public resources to satisfy their desires, with scarce thoughts for those they should be serving.
Last week the Mail & Guardian revealed how our former defence minister Lindiwe Sisulu spent up to R40-million on luxury jet trips at R68 000 an hour, instead of using SAA like other ministers. (That may well explain her tears when Zuma unceremoniously reshuffled her in June this year. As Democratic Alliance MP David Maynier put it: "The minister's wings have been clipped and she finds herself grounded … condemned to chicken or beef, on SAA, for the remainder of her term.")
In Lenasia this week, unsuspecting Gauteng residents saw their houses demolished after they were fraudulently sold state-owned land. With scant regards to the dilemma these largely innocent citizens were faced with, local government merrily knocked over their homes, until the courts stepped in to intervene.
Back in KZN, the local health minister Sibongiseni Dhlomo apparently commandeered an air ambulance earlier this month, delaying an injured teenager's arrival at a Durban hospital, the Sunday Tribune reported. Dhlomo told the newspaper he was a medical doctor and could use the helicopter as he saw fit. He would not say what he had used it for. The teenager had to make the journey by road, losing precious minutes in his fight for survival.
And so it goes, one detour after the next on the road to governance. It should be a straight and preferably a high road, but instead we are left with a tangled mess of self-serving trips, diversions and sprees until it becomes the whole of the map.
About 180km below the road I first described is another well-known road. Alan Paton famously describes it in the opening lines of Cry, The Beloved Country: "There is a lovely road which runs from Ixopo into the hills. These hills are grass covered and rolling, and they are lovely beyond any singing of it."
I'm afraid the same can't be said for the path we currently find ourselves upon.
- Verashni is the deputy editor of the M&G online. You can read her column every week here, and follow her on Twitter here.
A previous version of the column stated that the area around the road was sending the biggest delegation to Mangaung from KZN, instead of it having the second largest number of branches. It also incorrectly implied that Zuma's compound was in the middle of Nkandla. This was corrected on November 15 2012.