Even Zuma’s home town of Nxamalala is divided over his fate

The upgrade to the road linking Nxamalala to Nkandla and Jacob Zuma’s homestead cost R292-million. Other roads in the Nxamalala area are potholed  and impassable when it rains. (Rogan Ward)

The upgrade to the road linking Nxamalala to Nkandla and Jacob Zuma’s homestead cost R292-million. Other roads in the Nxamalala area are potholed and impassable when it rains. (Rogan Ward)

Retired civil servant Zakheyabo Ndlovu appears surprised by the fuss over whether his neighbour, President Jacob Zuma, should serve the rest of his term as head of state or resign at the request of the governing party.

Ndlovu, like many residents of the president’s home village of Nxamalala near Nkandla, has been too busy getting on with life to give much thought as to what happens to Zuma. The media frenzy outside Parliament and the postponement of the State of the Nation address appears not to have reached them.

On Thursday morning Ndlovu, 65, who lives across the Nsuze River from Zuma, was fixing a puncture on his Ford Ranger. The tyre had blown on one of the potholed, corrugated dirt roads that fan out from the P15 that runs past Zuma’s homestead.

[Zakheyabo Ndlovu earns a living transporting pupils to and from school. (Rogan Ward)]

“To be honest, I haven’t really thought about it,” said Ndlovu, who earns a living as a malume, driving pupils every morning and afternoon to and from Ntolwane Primary School, where Zuma votes at election time. “For me it doesn’t really matter. If he stays, we don’t get anything. If he goes, we don’t get anything.”

Ndlovu’s tyre was being repaired at a container set up across the road from the Thusong One Stop Centre, one of two clusters of government offices built at Nxamalala since Zuma became president on May  9 2009. Thusong houses satellite police and home affairs offices, a post office and an Ithala Bank ATM. It’s also home to Doctors Without Borders (MSF)  and the Jacob Zuma RDP Education Trust local office, which provides tertiary bursaries to about 500 local youngsters every year.

The centre cost just over R14-million but is in serious need of a paint job. There’s a huge puddle of water in the unpaved courtyard. Most of the windows in the police satellite station are broken. There’s a jungle gym overgrown with weeds behind the post office and a pile of soccer balls, presumably for the annual tournaments sponsored by Zuma, in a storeroom. There’s no money in the Ithala ATM.

The other service centre, Mamba One Stop, was built at a cost of R12.8-million. There are no patrons.

“I think the ANC should let him finish,” said Ndlovu. “If they don’t, the ANC will have a big problem. People here in KwaZulu-Natal love Zuma. If the ANC fires him, they will vote for the IFP [Inkatha Freedom Party] next time and the ANC will lose.”

Ndlovu said the ANC also needed to be careful to avoid a violent backlash. “Some people are angry. They can fight,” Ndlovu said.

He said that Zuma’s sponsoring of Christmas parties for the elderly and his involvement in soccer and chess tournaments for the younger people had made him popular at Nxamalala.

“He gives people food parcels at Christmas. They love them. I don’t know where the money comes,” he said with a mischievous laugh. “Maybe he gets donations from other governments or somebody.”

The national and provincial governments spent R290-million building the P15, which links Nxamalala to Kranskop. They forked out another R292-million on the 54km stretch of road between Nxamalala and Nkandla after Zuma became president. Much less attention has been paid to the roads leading to the homes of his neighbours.

“Look at this,” Ndlovu said. “The small roads here are terrible. I am always fixing punctures. When it rains, it is not safe to go and pick up the children from their house. They have to walk in the rain to the main road so we can pick them up.”

Lungile Sabela, 36, a community worker with MSF who works in Nxamalala but commutes daily from Oyaya outside Eshowe, also felt Zuma should not be forced to resign.

“They should let him finish. It is only till 2019,” said Sabela. “I don’t see what the need is for him to go now. There is nothing bad you can say about him to people here.”

In the Education Trust office, the two staff members on duty were not happy to talk about the removal of their patron from office. Behind them, a holographic portrait of Nelson Mandela morphed into Zuma’s head as the sunlight caught it.

When asked what effect Zuma’s recall might have on their programmes to fund rural students at tertiary level, the young woman said: “We will keep on helping people. Even if they fire the president, we will keep on working. People support the trust and give donations because they know the work we do.”

Zuma’s homestead, infamously improved with R248-millon of taxpayers’ money, some of which the president later “paid back”, appeared deserted on Thursday, with no visible preparations taking place for his return home if recalled.

A woman had braved the sun to work in the vegetable patch in front of Zuma’s compound. Another woman with a machete was cutting grass at the AstroTurf football and basketball pitch next to the main house. A few of the houses for the static police detail were occupied. There was nobody in the fire pool.

Not all of Zuma’s Nxamalala neighbours were keen for him to finish his term. “He must go now,” said a 29-year-old woman who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals. “Let him go. Since he became president, he has done nothing for us. I don’t care who replaces him. Anybody would be better for us.”

The woman, whose family of seven survive off a single old-age pension and three child-care grants, sounded bitter about Zuma’s reputation as a generous neighbour.

“He only looks after his family and the people who are linked to them,” she said. “If you are not a Zuma, or a friend of a Zuma, forget. You will get nothing from them.”

The woman said she and other residents had been excited when Zuma became president, thinking it would bring prosperity to Nxamalala. “We thought because he was from Nxamalala, we would be able to get jobs, get education,” she said. “As soon as it happened we realised what he was. It is all about his family.

“We are starving here. We go and ask for help, for some food, there is nothing for us. When there are chances for jobs, they give to relatives. They should fire him now. For us it doesn’t matter if he ever became president or not. Maybe a president from a far-away place will be good for us. One from here wasn’t.”

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