Cape Town - As the scandal still simmers around President Jacob Zuma’s R200 million-plus Nkandla home, news has broken that the nearby R2 billion “Zumaville” development is to go ahead.
The Nkandla-Mlalazi Smart Growth Centre, as it is formally known, will be at least half-funded by the state. It will reportedly include a school, libraries, a sport centre with tennis courts, housing, communal gardens, modern residential units, a shopping mall, a college, banking facilities and other amenities.
The Zumaville development is to be built in an area surrounding Nkandla. The mega-project is led by a rural development organisation Zuma chairs, Masibambisane Rural Development Trust, co-headed by a cousin of Zuma’s, Sibusiso “Deebo” Mzobe.
Mzobe is informally known by some as the “mayor of Zumaville” because he is in charge of developing Zuma’s home town of Nkandla.
Mzobe was married in May at a traditional wedding reportedly attended by 8 000 guests, including Zuma.
The Sunday Times reported that the chief of the area, Vela Shange, had given approval for the “Zumaville” development to go ahead.
This came after residents of Shange’s area initially protested that they were not willing to vacate their homes and did not want family grave sites moved to clear space for the various developments.
But Mzobe told the Sunday Times that Shange had given his blessing.
Zuma has in the past denied that his home town had been unfairly advantaged by the project.
Responding to questions in the National Assembly in September, Zuma said he saw no reason why Nkandla should be “punished” because he happened to come from there.
“Should they be punished because they are neighbours to Zuma? I don’t think that is the correct approach.
“Developing that area does not trouble me, it makes me very proud.” But the development has raised the ire of various opponents.
“It is clear that Zuma will derive great benefit from the project in his personal capacity,” AfriForum chief executive Ernst Roets said.
He said the public protector had been asked to probe the matter because the circumstances amounted to an abuse of power by Zuma.
“The president is wearing three hats,” Roets said. “He is the head of the executive authority of government; he is chairman of Masibambisane, the government’s partner in this matter; and as a citizen with a personal interest in Nkandla, he is also a beneficiary.”
DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko previously asked in Parliament how the president could justify spending money in an area “just 3.2km from your homestead” when other impoverished parts of KwaZulu-Natal were left without basic services.
She said within a 100km radius, villages such as Ebizimali and Eqhudeni lacked water and electricity.
Zuma responded by naming 23 poor districts nationwide which had been identified by the government as recipients of upliftment programmes.
“Development goes where it goes at a given time,” he said.
He denied he had instructed the government to give priority to the development project of the new town.
“Government is doing a lot more throughout the country, even beyond the few districts I have mentioned. It is a pity that only Nkandla seems to generate interest,” said Zuma.
Last August, Mazibuko said she would formally ask the chairman of the standing committee on public accounts (Scopa), Themba Godi, to investigate why the government had decided to spend so much money on a single village when the money could have been spread across many impoverished rural areas in KZN.
On Sunday, the DA’s representative on Scopa, Dion George, criticised Mzobe’s involvement in another alleged scandal, a R1bn food-for-the-poor development.
Speaking to the Cape Argus last night, George said both the more-recent food matter, as well as “Zumaville”, would be the subject of investigations by the DA’s team on Scopa, “with a view to them both being discussed formally and publicly at Scopa”.
Last October, Public Protector Thuli Madonsela announced that her office would investigate “Zumaville”.