The president's got our back, says Jacob Zuma's clan

President Jacob Zuma's neighbours in Nkandla have only good things to say about their  'leader'. (Madelene Cronjé, M&G)

President Jacob Zuma's neighbours in Nkandla have only good things to say about their 'leader'. (Madelene Cronjé, M&G)

President Jacob Zuma's house in Nkandla is on the road to the gravesite of King Cetshwayo, who led the Zulu nation from this area in northern KwaZulu-Natal while it was at its peak in the late 18th century, before the British destroyed it.

Now another son of this area of rolling hills and towering mountains has risen to power. His home in the village of Nkandla – four hours north of Durban – has grown accordingly, as have his controversies.

But to the locals he is their leader. And he is in the right.

At first glance, his R250-million home is hard to make out from the rest of Nkandla. The village is in a valley, surrounded by the Drakensberg mountain range. The tall brick-and-thatch houses that have drawn public protector Thuli Madonsela's attention are painted a light sand colour, and blend into the light-green acacia trees that dominate the local vegetation.

This primary compound is protected behind a 3m-high black security fence. But beyond this are large fields of newly ploughed red earth, worked by dozens of women.

'Fucken hungry'
Eliot Notho Zuma (that's the local clan surname) sees the Mail & Guardian's presence as a chance to ask for food. Standing outside the flimsier outer perimeter fence of the home, he says: "I am fucken hungry. I go maybe two days without ­eating."

He is holding a brown loaf, allegedly his first food in days. He says he used to work at Eskom, "making power for Transvaal".

Now he is unemployed, but does not blame anyone. Rather, he says there has been a great deal of change in the community – for that he is happy. "My president, he is our Tata." He refuses to answer any questions about the costs of the president's home, saying the media have created them to discredit the president.

Across the valley on another hill, Muzi Ndaba has a panoramic view of Zuma's homestead. He moved here eight years ago from Swaziland for work, and smiles constantly as he speaks, especially about his home country. He will not be drawn into criticising King Mswati III. "I am a Swazi and he is my king."

When he talks about Zuma he smiles a bit more, looking across the valley at the homestead, pointing to show the path the president takes when he walks through the community.

'Man of the people'
"He is a man of the people. He walks around the community." Zuma leaves his guards alone, following at a distance so he can shake people's hands and talk, says Ndaba. "He is a nice man, he smiles and listens to complaints."

The 12 tightly clustered pink rondavels are home to Ndaba's extended family. His yard has electricity, which he says is because Zuma responded to his requests for services. There is also a tap, which is supplied by water pipes dug through the rocky earth. He has heard on the radio about questions into spending on Nkandla, but he does not think anything wrong happened. "He is a part of our community. Life here is good for us," he says.

About a kilometre from Zuma's house, Noluthando Zuma's home is a small rondavel with a sloped zinc roof. The floor is immaculately swept mud. She has basic services, which she attributes, with a pointed finger, to the man living in the large homestead two hills away.

She is puzzled by the attention given to the president's home. "Why do we care? It is his home and he has done good for us."

She wants to be a nurse or an electrical engineer, but cannot get a bursary. "We have problems, everyone has problems, but our life here is good because of the president."

Wearing a blanket, she nervously swings her white water bucket while she talks. "When we have problems we go to the president and he fixes them."

Sipho Kings

Client Media Releases

Winners for 2017 GAP Innovation Competition announced
Investing in cryptocurrencies
Project ETA at Palletways