Editorial: Zuma's charity begins at home
In 2010, the Mail & Guardian for the first time laid out the vast network of private business interests built up by Jacob Zuma and his family since the ANC's Polokwane conference.
Zuma Inc, as we dubbed it, quickly became a source of public controversy as South Africans questioned the potentially wide array of private interests created for the trading of political and commercial favours. The rows over iron ore mining rights at Sishen, which drew in Zuma's son, Duduzane, and the asset stripping of the Aurora mine in which his nephew, Khulubuse, was involved, offered a clear demonstration of the risks for democracy posed by a presidential family using its connections to build a business empire.
But it is not just in for-profit companies that the president and those closest to him are carrying out questionable financial activities. As we report this week, Zuma and his wives have created a raft of opaque trusts and foundations purporting to act for the greater good.
There is only limited information in the public domain about how these bodies source their finances and how they spend them – most have not filed the required financial documentation in terms of the Non-Profit Organisation Act. Indeed, what little we do know suggests that, just like the family's commercial interests, its non-profit entities are a ready source for dispensing patronage and gathering dubious donations from those seeking access to power at the highest levels.
And government departments seem to have no compunction about steering resources to these Zuma initiatives in ways in which other philanthropic organisations could not hope to benefit.
Certainly, the unanswered questions are now piling up.
What is Telkom, which is chaired by Zuma-supporting businessperson Lazarus Zim, doing donating R1-million for "branding purposes" to the Jacob Zuma Foundation? What value did shareholders, including the government, derive from this gift? And on what was it spent?
Why will Patrice Motsepe, one of South Africa's richest men, not answer questions about the millions he has poured in?
Did the department of agriculture comply with basic public finance rules when it channelled a massive amount into Zuma's Masibambisane Rural Development Initiative?
Is it normal practice for the department of public service to organise fundraising golf days for non-governmental organisations, as it did for the Jacob Zuma RDP Education Trust?
Without clear answers, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the trusts and foundations offer companies, individuals and even Cabinet ministers an opportunity to buy access to Zuma – and that he spends their money on well-publicised hand-outs to build up his personal image.
The president has a government through which to pursue his policy objectives in education and rural development. He should leave the philanthropy for his retirement.
Zumaville: Send us your questions
The M&G's Verashni Pillay will put your tweets, comments and questions about Zumaville to Phillip De Wet in a live streaming video chat on Friday August 10 between 11.30am and noon.
Go here to submit your questions OR vote on an existing question.
We'll look at your questions and comments posted throughout this week, as well as input posted on our various platforms during the live discussion.
Go here for the live chat on Friday at 11:30, and to watch the recorded version thereafter.