That Nkandla is a depressed area where the people feel economically and politically marginalised is tangible.
Nkandla town’s streets are filled with young people with nothing to do and any line of questioning regarding Jacob Zuma inevitably ends with the desperate hope that the situation in the area would improve if he were to become president.
“You can see the symptoms of underdevelopment, that’s why people don’t know enough about the [Zuma rape] case,” says schoolteacher Mthokozi Mchunu, as we drive out of Nkandla town towards Nkungumathe, a collection of neat huts and houses a few kilometres to the west.
Nothing more than a potholed T-junction with a shopping centre, police station, taxi rank, several taverns and houses, Nkandla town is rather grandly named, but it has electricity and running water.
Barely a kilometre out of town the electricity wires stop undulating over the huts that speckle the green landscape, the roads become dustier, more treacherous and the people more isolated.
The transistor radio is the main source of information in a 5Â 000m area, which includes Nkandla town and several smaller sections like Nkungumathe and KwaNxamalala, where the former deputy president has his compound.
“Without electricity people don’t have televisions or computers and those are barriers to information,” lamented Mchunu, who is also chairperson of the Nkungumathe Youth Development Forum.
“To come to a conclusion you must do research and that is impossible without development, that is why people here are making conclusions about the Zuma trial based on what other people are saying. Otherwise all we have is the radio because most people here are illiterate.”
Mchunu says he does not support Zuma “politically” but believes he is innocent because there is a conspiracy against him.
In Ophindweni, south of Nkandla town, 48-year-old Mbongeleni Biyela is sitting under a tree in his compound fiddling with a radio while talking with his uncle, Mshini (66). Chicken are running amok in the yard while some of his 16 children are making mud bricks for a house being built to replace the two washed away by heavy rains.
Biyela is on holiday from Johannesburg where he works as a school caretaker.
“They are making vetkoek blocks,” he jokes above the static of the radio, pointing towards the children. He has been following the trial more closely in Johannesburg because he has access to newspapers; in Nkandla it is just the radio.
The reception is bad and Biyela’s attempts to tune into Ukhozi FM only yields a presenter’s voice barely audible through the interference. He did tune in the previous night.
He does not buy Zuma’s claims that not having sex with his accuser after giving her a massage was tantamount to denying his Zulu culture.
“I don’t think that’s Zulu culture, I think that is more Zuma culture.”
Like many Nkandla residents, Biyela supports Zuma.
He is uncertain if Zuma is guilty of the rape charges but believes he is the victim of a plot driven by a perceived Xhosa faction within the African National Congress.
He too is optimistic that a Zulu, especially one from Nkandla, ascending to the presidency of the country will help the IFP-controlled area: “The amaXhosa told us that since we didn’t vote ANC we are not going to get any help here. We like [Zuma] because he is like Jesus, he has been working hard for the freedom of the people for a long time. The indunas, the councillors, they don’t deliver, but if Zuma became president then maybe he will do something for this area, the way [President Thabo] Mbeki is doing for his village.”
Biyela runs through a list of problems facing Nkandla residents including cattle theft, unemployment, and lack of electricity, proper sanitation and running water.
But not everybody in Nkandla is as uncritical of Zuma.
“Hai, suka, [Zuma] is giving Nkandla a bad name with the way he is behaving, we are not happy about it. We as the people of Nkandla are very disappointed in someone who could be our next president,” says Mildred Msomi* (76), a retired nurse.
Laughter from two girls playing a hundred metres away pierces the dusk. “I’m not supporting him,” says Msomi’s granddaughter, Gladys* (27), who is unemployed. “It is getting crazy! In Isolezwe yesterday there was a picture of a small child with a wooden machine gun outside court. What does that child know about rape and how was he allowed to do that? I hate that woman and children are being abused. It seems that if you get raped now you mustn’t report it, because the law will treat you like the criminal. They are just supporting him because he is a Zulu and from Nkandla. He is just a rapist, not a president.”
Later, the mother of one of the girls playing in the nearby field confides that both had been raped. Her daughter, last year at the age of six: “I am angry with Zuma, I am angry with all rapists,” she says. “I am also angry with the law because they did nothing. They said they couldn’t arrest the rapist because he was not an 18-year-old yet.
* Names have been changed