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KwaZulu-Natal - This was the president as he has never been seen before – angry, emotional and short tempered at some points.
The scene was presidential question time in the National Assembly on Thursday. And President Jacob Zuma was in a mean mood.
It was clear, even as he struggled through his written reply to the questions about his Nkandla residence, that Zuma had clear intentions to face head on what threatens to be the biggest scandal or talking point of his presidency.
He stared down Lindiwe Mazibuko, the leader of the DA, and went on, like a father talking to a daughter or a teacher to a pupil, to attempt to answer the questions the DA had posed about Nkandla.
The real Zuma, however, emerged after he had dealt with the written text. He placed the written reply down and methodically began to open his heart to the South African public. He was hurting, he told MPs and the many who watched the political spectacle on television. He was also angry and took exception to those who wanted to portray him as corrupt, using untested evidence. He also took exception to those who thought that “people like me” cannot build houses (such as those at Nkandla). “It is unfair,” came the cry from the president.
When he said he did not want to use harsher words to deal with those who have labelled him, he revealed the depth of the wounds brought about by the attention paid to his homestead, which has shot from being a R500 000 village mansion to a multi-million-rand estate in a matter of years.
However, the more answers Zuma provided, no matter how many times he reiterated them, they raised even more questions.
For instance, Zuma insisted that he had paid for the building alterations and extensions to his homestead. He further claimed that the “family” had also chipped in to assist with the building project. All sounded good and proper.
Except, when he claimed that he had raised a bond with a financial institution, he should have, in the name of transparency and accountability, disclosed the size of the loan and the financial institution. This should be done so that ordinary South Africans can reconcile the figure and the work done.
The claim that “the family” had clubbed together to build the homestead raises many questions because newspapers have published stories of members of Zuma’s families who have, in the recent past, found themselves in financial difficulties. One of his sons could not pay for his wedding. His nephew has left thousands of miners destitute and was raided by the Sheriff of the Court.
So which “family” was the president referring to? Could it be the same “family” that generously contributed to the building of the house? Could it be the same “family” whose contributions were exposed in the trial of convicted fraudster Schabir Shaik?
These are legitimate questions that the president should answer. These are questions that are raised by the half-baked answers that he tabled in Parliament.
They are not the only questions that remained unanswered after Zuma’s bold performance in Parliament. The others were outlined by Mazibuko, in her retort to the president.
To her credit, Mazibuko stood her ground and was not intimidated by the president and ANC backbenchers.
After Zuma claimed that the government had paid for “security features” at his home, Mazibuko rattled off a few relevant questions.
These included whether the following were security features:
* Thirty-one new buildings, six of which cost R8m each.
* R2.3m for lifts “carrying the honourable president to his underground bunker”.
* Air conditioning systems for every one of the houses at R1.5m.
* A visitors’ centre, a gymnasium and guest rooms.
This was a political sucker punch, which went unanswered.
The one question that also stood out like a sore thumb was about who paid for the fence around the presidential private compound. In his statement, Zuma initially said he had paid for the construction of the wall but later on said the wall was paid for as part of the security upgrade at his estate.
One of the positives to emerge from Zuma’s defence of Nkandla was that he welcomed investigations by the auditor-general of the R250m spent on his house.
However, he probably missed an opportunity to say that he shared the desire by South Africans to find out what the R250m was spent on.
That should concern him as much as the hurting allegations that he is corrupt and that he and his family are looting government coffers through departments such as Public Works.
Did Zuma succeed in his attempt to kill the debate around the R250m spent on his house?
He fluffed it. He could have done better. Way better.