Nkandla Watch

Incalculable hidden costs of Nkandla


While direct costs to the taxpayer of the security measures at President Jacob Zuma private Nkandla residence are set to go up even further, the hidden cost to the country has become incalculable.

Instead of lowering the cost for taxpayers of the security measures, Police Minster Nathi Nhleko’s report last week foresees even more spending on that front.

The hidden cost to the country, especially in terms of its international reputation, has however gone up dramatically.

In an interview published in February of this year, Dominik Heil, managing director of the Reputation Institute South Africa, told CNBC Africa: “We should actually not see Nkandla as a 200 million rand problem, it’s a multi-billion rand problem for the country. [The president] would know that, and that makes it even worse. In any normal democracy, if you have this multi-institutional meltdown that we’re seeing, there would be no question that this government would no longer be in place today ...”

Heil also said that “...where South Africa’s reputation is most vulnerable is in the area of safety and efficient governance,” adding that “the government is not being seen favourably, and we are cementing those two perceptions around the world, and that’s where our reputation is most vulnerable. We’re seeing that the big stories now hit straight into that curb.”

The Nhleko-report, coming so close on the heels of the recent spate of xenophobic attacks on foreigners and now that the country was involved in rigging the 2010 Soccer World Cup bid, plays directly into this scenario.

This is well illustrated by looking at a few headlines of reports by some reputable international media-outlets on the matter:

It is against this background that one should read the assessment by Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu that government swept aside of the report of the Public Protector on Nkandla.

“Instead of setting a good example, our public representatives are humiliating themselves, our country and our people by trying to defend the indefensible. For them to sweep aside of the report of the Public Protector bodes particularly ill for the future of good governance.

“It is unconscionable to spend hundreds of millions of rands on the President's spurious "security" needs. The power of the government to manipulate justice comes at great cost to our reputation, our development potential (our emphasis) and our hard-won self-belief,” he said.

It is not over yet

And the saga is not over yet, with the battle to shift back to parliamentary committees and most likely the courts.

Apart from opposition parties having indicated that they will be seeking legal councel on the matter, Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, whose report on the matter started it all has indicated that President Zuma “should pay up or approach the Constitutional Court”.

Likewise the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution expressed the opinion that it is inevitable that the Nkandla saga would end up in court. “Neither (Nhleko) nor the president was asked to determine whether the president should pay, but rather the quantum to be paid,” it said.

Towards the end of last year President Zuma probably had an opportunity to have put the whole matter to rest, as we pointed out at the time, when a group of business friends offered to pay some of the Nkandla costs on his behalf.

But, as the director of the Centre for the Study of Democracy Steven Friedman pointed out last week, there is a continued strategy of a “blank stonewalling,” by government with regard to the Nkandla affair. “They simply decided to tough it out and close ranks,” he said.

For now it seems that the whole affair, with the “reputational damage” it is causing the country, is set to be with us for some time to come.

by Piet Coetzer

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