281 Businessman Cyril Ramaphosa. 160107. Picture: Bongiwe Mchunu

It must be a tough job being deputy president of the ruling ANC. Yesterday, a national newspaper suggested that the coming elections would not be about Nkandla. When I saw it tweeted in the early hours of the morning, I almost laughed. It spurred me on and I retweeted: “Is that a joke?”

When I checked to see what this was about, it apparently related to what billionaire businessman-turned-politician Cyril Ramaphosa had said about the upcoming national election, widely believed to be scheduled for April 27, the anniversary of the day 20 years ago that South Africa started its march towards democracy.

South Africa is still struggling to be a democracy, with its associated freedoms of expression and right to assemble, if comments about Nkandla are any indication.

The election is not about Nkandla, the honourable future deputy president of the country tells us. It will be about delivery of houses – other than the president’s compound in KwaZulu-Natal, one assumes – water, electricity and other services. It will be about the roll-out of food parcels, social welfare grants to about 16 million people, and the promise of 6 million jobs over 10 years as pledged in the ANC manifesto.

Ramaphosa’s words, as captured by the Mail & Guardian, were these: “The ANC is going to surprise all of us during the elections. I am not worried about the level of support for the ANC. We are going to do better.” He was apparently answering questions about the impact on voting behaviour of spending more than R200 million on the Nkandla upgrade. “We should have released the [interministerial] report on Nkandla much earlier so that the people can debate it.”

Ramaphosa did have the grace to say that it was inappropriate for ANC supporters to stop members of other parties – such as Julius Malema leading his Economic Freedom Fighters to build a house for a woman on the boundary of Nkandla – and throw stones at them. I suppose it is a case of those in glass houses shouldn’t…

Quoted from Justice Malala’s eNCA show, Ramaphosa said: “There should never be a no-go area for any leader in South Africa. After all, we are all contestants. Nobody should think they own a section of our society. We will not tolerate ANC supporters blocking leaders of other political formation from campaigning freely.” Supposedly, President Jacob Zuma concurred with this view.

Margaret Thatcher once inaccurately remarked that those who thought the ANC would come to power in South Africa were “living in cloud cuckoo land”. She was dead wrong, of course.

However, there is a growing paranoia lurking in ANC circles about Nkandla. There is a desperate attempt to sweep the ever-increasing scandal under voluminous red carpets. A cloud cuckoo land is hovering over this compound and no amount of trying to sweep it away is going to work.

The newspaper that sent out that tweet is trying its best to squash bad news for the ruling party. It simply will not work.

Key election issues will inevitably include Nkandla. It’s one of the reasons the National Union of Metalworkers of SA formally withdrew its support for the ANC last month. There are, of course, other compelling reasons for it taking that step.

Its general secretary, Irvin Jim, will deliver an alternative state of the nation speech from a union perspective to the Cape Town Press Club on February 11, ahead of Zuma’s official State of the Nation address at the opening of Parliament two days later. Jim will be focusing on why a swathe of workers now distrust the ruling party, and you can bet your bottom dollar Nkandla will be mentioned.