The ANC’s Nkandla damage control plan

Mmanaledi Mataboge, Matuma Letsoalo

Party members are confident that they have all the answers for doubling voters.

Appeal to tradition: President Jacob Zuma in a ceremony at Nkandla. Photo: Thuli Dlamini/Gallo

The ANC, as part of its plans to head the Nkandla saga off at the pass, will blame inefficient officials, government policy that fails to accommodate presidents who wish to live in rural areas, and racism.

According to several of its national executive committee (NEC) members, ANC campaigners will attempt to neutralise the expected negative impact that the allegations of the abuse of taxpayers’ money in developing President Jacob Zuma’s private home in Nkandla may have on voters’ choices.

This week, the majority of ANC leaders who spoke to the Mail & Guardian said there would be no immediate implications for Zuma as a result of the leaked provisional public protector’s report, which showed he derived "substantial" personal benefit from works that exceeded the security needs at Nkandla.

The ANC will also blame the media for what some of its leaders call selective reporting on corruption, as well as for giving corruption a black face.

Four NEC members said this week the ANC will defend Zuma against what is being seen as a political ploy to discredit him and, by extension, the ANC, on the eve of the 2014 elections.

Thuli Madonsela’s leaked provisional report, published in the M&G last week, showed that Zuma benefited more than he should have from what were supposed to be security upgrades but which ended up going well beyond that. The report recommended that Zuma repay some of the money to the state.

The ANC is holding an NEC meeting and a national list conference this weekend to finalise the candidates to be deployed to Parliament and provincial legislatures. The party has already said Nkandla is not on its agenda.

Despite the public outcry over the Nkandla spending, some ANC leaders believe it will not be a challenge to explain and justify to rural communities the need for security upgrades.

In the 2009 elections, the ANC received the majority of its support from the rural areas of KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, the Eastern Cape, North West and Mpumalanga, and the ANC North West provincial chairperson, Supra Mahumapelo, an ex-officio member of the NEC, said rural voters would not easily abandon the ANC, because they are used to providing financial assistance to their own traditional leaders.

"It is a well-known fact that, according to African values, it is the responsibility of the community under the governance of traditional leaders to ensure the wellbeing of the traditional leadership," he said.

"Therefore, the attempt to use Nkandla as a campaigning tactic against the ANC will not fly in rural areas. Even those in urban areas who come from rural homes will understand this thing better. "

Political parties normally pay courtesy visits to traditional leaders during election campaigns before addressing community members. This time ANC representatives will use the chiefs, and by extension Zuma, as an example of leaders who are worthy of being provided for.

An NEC member who did not want to be named said: "When engaging rural people, I’ll use the chief as an example and say these critics say we shouldn’t build the chief a house, we shouldn’t buy them a car and take their children to school. They say the chief and the president shouldn’t benefit in that way."

NEC member Lindiwe Zulu said Zuma could not have requested the extras on Nkandla.

"From knowing this man, I can assure you that the president would not go out and say, I want a swimming pool.

"All those people who were involved in the buildings need to answer what was it that was necessary for President Zuma’s house. What I know is that Zuma never sat in tender processes," she said.

"If the president said, ‘I want you to build this’, and it is outside the scope, then people must say so. We want them to say so that we can deal with whatever we think was not supposed to be built by the state." 

Some ANC campaigners will accuse Nkandla critics of undermining development in rural areas. The provincial secretary for the ANC in North West, Dakota Legoete, said those complaining about the Nkandla upgrades were discriminating against Zuma because they had not questioned similar upgrades undertaken for other former presidents.

"We say the same spirit we had applied when we developed Rondebosch, Genadendal and Hough­ton must apply in this case. We think the difference here is that the president chose to develop Nkandla, a rural area," he said.

Legoete said the media would have turned a blind eye if the Nkandla development had been in an affluent suburb such as Sandton.

Calls for the president’s impeachment amounted to "an attack on the body politic of the ANC just before elections", he said.

"This is also a race issue. Corrup­tion in South Africa based on what is being reported by the media has got colour – it’s been given a black face."

Meanwhile, the ANC spokesperson, Jackson Mthembu, said that responding to questions about how Nkandla might affect the party’s election campaign would amount to giving credence to the leaked report.

"From our side, to respond to this matter properly, whether it’s for urban or rural areas, the truth should come from the final report. NEC members who comment on these leaks are not being helpful because their perceptions are formed by leaks," he said.

This is the second time the ANC has had to defend Zuma against a possible rejection by voters just months before the polls. In the build-up to the 2009 elections, when he was facing charges of fraud, corruption and racketeering relating to the conviction of his former financial adviser, Schabir Shaik, on similar charges, the party successfully presented him as a victim of a political conspiracy.

The charges were later dropped.

An additional advantage for Zuma is that the current NEC is dominated by his loyalists. An NEC member told the M&G they believed that 90% of the NEC would defend Zuma. Of the remaining 10%, fewer than half would be brave enough to raise issues in meetings, and those who did would do so "diplomatically". 

The ANC will also try to convince the urban voter not to abandon the party because of Nkandla. In this case, the blame is likely to be placed on government officials who were involved in authorising the Nkandla projects.

Kebby Maphatsoe, an NEC member who is also national chairperson of the Umkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans’ Association, said that the ANC would tell voters that the party had no problem with Zuma because "he does not assess his own security – it’s the security cluster that does that. We’ll just say this is a government thing, so let government deal with it."

Zulu also implied that the blame for the Nkandla overspending would be directed to the government depart­ments involved in the project.

"We will take the report and go to the public works and say, you have a lot to answer for. Why should it be Zuma who is supposed to answer?"

The ANC seems so upset with Madonsela that the thought of her being removed from office has crossed some leaders’ minds.

But Zulu said: "If President Zuma was a nasty person, he would have fired the public protector. He is the one that appoints the public protector. He would say, ‘I want to remove that woman.’

"But the president has been saying the public protector’s office is important for our democracy and it is there to protect our people." 

Mthembu said the leaks have reduced the investigation to be about Zuma instead of security upgrades.

"Let those who took decisions [about Nkandla upgrades] come forward. That’s why the ANC says even security experts must stand before the public and respond."

City Press reported recently that the ANC crafted a "hymn sheet" for its campaigners, with responses to difficult questions voters might ask on the campaign trail. On Nkandla, campaigners were directed to say Zuma had funded the construction of his homestead.

"Because the area is very rural, accommodation for police, a surgery, source of power, water storage, helicopter landing pad, safety bunker, etc, had to be built. Three independent investigations are being done to see if any contracts were corrupt or overcharged," the directive reads.

Madonsela said this week she planned to release her final report by the second week of January if all the work had been completed. An NEC member said Nkandla would cause an "unnecessary distraction" from the party’s election campaigns as leaders would be forced to answer questions about the probe.

All NEC members who spoke to the M&G said Zuma had not been accused in Madonsela’s investigation and said the party will only consider action against anyone found to have contravened regulations once the final report has been issued.

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