GREY skies and rolling hills greeted journalists who visited President Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla residence. Stepping over the cattle grate at the entrance towards a gate and the infamous visitors’ centre, a sense of desolation took hold.
It was a little awkward being ushered around what should be a private home, which is generally the most sacred of spaces.
Another outrage lingered at the back of my mind.
I realised it had been six years since the late Mail & Guardian reporter Mandy Rossouw broke the story on the excessive upgrades to Zuma’s home being bankrolled to the tune of millions of rand by the state.
Four investigations later, Parliament is in a pickle, the public protector is under attack and there is still no accountability.
And there is still very little security in Nkandla.
The visit followed one by MPs, who expressed shock and outrage at the shoddy workmanship and dilapidated state of Zuma’s home.
They accused the public protector of lying to the country about the upgrades in Nkandla.
African National Congress (ANC) MPs pictured painting their nails in Parliament were livid at the diminutive size of the visitors’ centre and the filth in the swimming pool.
All, no doubt, aimed at justifying further spending.
Public Protector Thuli Madonsela hit back this week, telling the MPs they had missed the point completely.
It was irrelevant, she said, whether the visitors’ centre was small or that the swimming pool was dirty; the point was they were not part of the security upgrades.
Madonsela also said that Zuma himself had requested that, when his cattle kraal was moved, it be larger than the original one, and that he would foot the bill for it.
The amphitheatre, too, in minutes and memoranda that were uncovered during her investigation, was described as having "dual purposes" — both as a soil retention wall and a space for public gatherings.
Someone should alert Police Minister Nathi Nhleko to this — his Wikipedia definition of an amphitheatre may be useful after all.
Madonsela reminded the nation that an "apportionment document" actually spelled out what Zuma should pay for. But still MPs and Zuma himself insisted that he should not pay anything back at all.
In Nkandla, journalists were treated to a fire-pool demonstration and a tour of the clinic.
We were shown what should have been the central command centre overseeing security at the homestead as a whole.
There were blank security monitors on the floor. It is understood that these monitors were in working order a year earlier.
Watching Nkandla disappear into the distance after the visit, it dawned on me that this homestead had become a monument to governance and accountability gone wrong; a monument to corruption.
As journalists visited Nkandla, back in Gauteng the ANC was in the midst of its mid-year lekgotla, debating a report by Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene, who painted a bleak picture of the country’s economy over the medium term.
The meeting followed yet another tumultuous week of governance failures at state-owned companies. It preceded the release of the quarterly labour force survey, which again painted a bleak picture of the high number of unemployed South Africans who have now given up looking for work.
A week before that, Lonmin had become the latest mining company to announce it was cutting jobs — as load shedding continued.
One wonders whether it will all be worth it in the end. It can be argued the time has come to let the matter of Nkandla as Zuma’s legacy rest.
It is certainly overshadowing many of the accomplishments of his administration, and is certainly detracting from any resolution of the other deep challenges our society faces.
But, unfortunately, the more ANC MPs insist on preventing accountability, the longer this monument to Zuma’s time as president will dominate our discourse at the peril of failing to deal with the critical issues facing our country.
By Natasha Marrian BDLive