While growing up I remember noticing the glaring inequalities in my village of Ga-Mamabolo, rural Limpopo, when it came to the local chief and residents.

There was an abnormal respect for the chiefs and indunas that led them to think they could siphon money from the residents to enrich themselves, with impunity. For example there was money my poor, unemployed grandmother was made to pay to men who would just rock up.

She would tell me its money to contribute to the chief’s wellbeing and that of his family. And when we slaughtered a cow or goat, we were told to donate a big chunk of the meat to the royal family. It was called sebego — announcing to the royal household that we had managed to kill a beast and would sleep with a full stomach.

The same was to be done when we harvested – whether it was a good harvest or just enough to survive. I always asked questions. Why should the whole village donate to one family when the residents are poor and can barely survive?

More striking were the disparities between the chief’s household and the rest of the village. A dedicated tar road would be constructed for the chief and his family — from the nearby town to his doorstep. Electricity pylons would pass over the roofs of the village huts to supply electricity to the chief’s home.

There would be no rain and the village would be dry but the chief had boreholes to keep his lush lawns and tall palm trees green. Things started to change when several villagers stoop up to him. I remember the tribal authority council and chief were shocked when the residents said enough!

I was reminded of these medieval days when I read about another modern-day, self-made chief of the village of Nkandla. But this one doesn’t need a chunk of meat or a bagful of our hard-earned harvest – though it’s close. He wants a whopping R238 million of our money.

Chief Zuma wants to build his private homestead in the hills of KwaZulu-Natal. It will include a helipad, underground bunkers, a clinic and even a football field. Chief Zuma is only paying 5%. The rest is paid by you and me. With that money we could pay our teachers and nurses, transport schoolchildren in Limpopo, Mpumalanga and the Eastern Cape, pay for textbooks, build schools for children and pay off the e-Toll debt.

As the Mail & Guardian puts it, this “will cost more than the combined expenditure on inner-city regeneration, making government buildings more accessible for the disabled and all other private residences of office-bearers combined”. Let’s not forget that this splurge happens in a country where many children go to bed hungry tonight. Where more than 10 million people live off social grants. And it’s done by a leader who has official residences in Pretoria, Durban and Cape Town paid for by the taxpayer.

To me it seems this is Chief Zuma’s final loot, taking as much as he can before Mangaung. Francophone dictators are known to buy lavish properties in France prior to their departures. Something needs to be done.

It’s fine the Public Protector is investigating, that opposition parties plan to raise it in Parliament and journalists are considering legal action to obtain the details but we are going to carry this R238 million burden. Our leaders can only abuse our resources and corrupt if allow them. Just like the residents of my village of Ga-Mamabolo, it will take firm opposition from all South Africans, activists, NGOs and like-minded politicians to say ENOUGH!


  • Isaac Mangena is a Chapter Nine Communicator slash activist. He has spent much of the past ten years of his life in a newsroom. He is a former TV and Newspaper journalist who focuses on African and international news. He previously worked for Media24 and Agence France-Presse. Isaac holds a BA Psychology degree from the University of the North (now Limpopo). He reads, writes and critique – a lot.


Isaac Mangena

Isaac Mangena is a Chapter Nine Communicator slash activist. He has spent much of the past ten years of his life in a newsroom. He is a former TV and Newspaper journalist who focuses on African and international...

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