Many South Africans were wondering if someone had dropped a cap of LSD in their lunch on Thursday. Half a dozen shaky, unintentionally hilarious videos filled the country’s television screens during a mid-afternoon ministerial briefing. These jaw-droppers were there to prove that a “fire pool”, an “animal enclosure with a culvert and chicken run”, a “visitors’ centre” and a “retaining wall/amphitheatre” were all necessary to protect the country’s number one. All of this while a schmaltzy O sole mio (which translates as “my sunshine”) provided the soundtrack.
These videos were the main riposte to public protector Thuli Madonsela’s findings last year that all of these exorbitant features at President Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla residence were not there to provide him with security – and that he had to #PayBackTheMoney.
The most gobsmacking part of this presentation in Cape Town was that Police Minister Nkosinathi Nhleko managed to introduce the bizarre videos with a straight face. However, he could not suppress a chuckle after the first video, in which police officers “proved” that the fire pool could be used to put out a fire – and not with a bucket, as national police commissioner Riah Phiyega once claimed (also with a straight face).
After the videos, Nhleko went into Orwellian overdrive: “The new animal enclosure complies with the security requirement that animals should be kept outside the high security zone and have an outlet, or culvert, that allows no interface between the livestock and the security infrastructure.”
Madonsela said in her 2014 report that this “animal enclosure” (or kraal) cost taxpayers R1.5-million, the assembly area R1.9-million, the amphitheatre R530 950 and the visitors’ centre R7.9-million.
Nhleko’s job was to prove Madonsela wrong: the millions spent were actually for security. It was probably therefore naive to expect the minister to tell us that Zuma was going to #PayBackTheMoney.
“Accordingly, the president is therefore not liable to pay for any of these security features,” Nhleko said.
That was it. The final verdict: Zuma 1; public protector 0.
And the jokes? They were on us.