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Close the gate quietly behind you when you leave, Mr President

Watergate set the trend. Since then we have locally had Muldergate, Travelgate, Guptagate and now Nkandlagate. There are others, quickly forgotten as new political outrages displace the old more swiftly than one can keep track.

The gate suffix is now so ubiquitous through journalistic overuse as to be meaningless. Especially given what separates the first gate scandal from the most recent.

Watergate, however disastrously misbegotten it turned out to be, was strategically calculated. It was a deliberate act of illegality with the risky intention of sabotaging a Democratic Party machine that Richard M Nixon feared was going to deprive him of a second term as president of the United States.

Nkandlagate, in comparison, is simply just another example of presidential greed and arrogance. It was a tawdry act of self-indulgence that Jacob G Zuma and his sycophantic cronies believed would have zero political consequences.

After all, this is a president who has defied political gravity for a long time. This is a man who won an almost two-thirds majority in his first tilt at the polls, despite a rape trial, followed by charges of racketeering, fraud and corruption that were foiled only by all kinds of behind-the-scenes shenanigans in the prosecution authority and intelligence services.

This is a man who despite a first term that could at best be described as lacklustre, went on to win a second term with a respectable 62% of the vote. How Nixon would have admired such a triumph of the brazen over the righteous.

So it is then not surprising that Zuma shrugs off the Nkandla controversy and the public protector’s finding that taxpayer money was misspent on private luxuries. During the election campaign earlier this year, he dismissed Nkandla as being the concern only of ‘bright people’, not ordinary voters. Apparently Number One is oblivious to the damning imputation of his words against the intelligence of his supporters.

Nkandla and e-tolls could result in President Jacob Zuma not seeing out his second term. (Esa Alexander, Gallo))
Nkandla and e-tolls could result in President Jacob Zuma not seeing out his second term. (Esa Alexander, Gallo))

Last week there was yet another tortuous and irrational justification. The Nkandla expenditure was okay, he explained, because there was a precedent to such executive excess: President PW Botha had commissioned the George airport not because it was economically necessary but for the convenience of access to his Wilderness home.

It’s clear that Zuma has never bothered to read the public protector’s exhaustive 447-page report. If he had, he would have been less inclined to raise the issue of how his predecessors, especially those from the apartheid years, behaved when it came to security matters. As it happens, public protector Thuli Madonsela’s report examines the issue in detail and the statistics are telling.

Zuma spent R246-million of taxpayer money ostensibly securing his private home. Securing PW Botha’s Wilderness home against would-be assassins cost the taxpayer a mere R173 000 in today’s currency. So it cost about 1 420 times more to ensure the safety of the African National Congress’s supposedly beloved man of the masses, than it took to protect one of the most loathed figures of the minority apartheid regime.

Of course, Zuma is not one to be easily shamed and, until now, it seemed that he could get away with pretty much whatever he liked. He might, however, at last be running out of road.

While Nkandlagate did not deter a critical mass of voters in 2014, it might do so in the 2016 local government elections. And then there is another stone in his shoe, the matter of e-tolls.

The e-tolls controversy has defied rationality. Never mind that it is blindingly obvious to most of the country, aside from Johannesburg and Pretoria motorists, that a user-pays system is the fairest way to fund new motorways, the antipathy to e-tolls is not abating. Non-payment is costing the toll operator and, ultimately the government, hundreds of millions.

Together, these two issues could conceivably bring Zuma down. Contrary to Zuma’s complacent assessment, there might well be enough “bright people” in Gauteng, where the ANC majority in the national election was a wafer thin 52%, for the governing party to lose control of a couple of metros, including that of the nation’s capital, Pretoria.

Faced with such losses, the ANC leadership echelon would get rid of Zuma. So there is one similarity between Watergate and Nkandlagate – like his “gate” predecessor Nixon, Zuma too might not see out his second term.

Follow WSM on Twitter @TheJaundicedEye


  • This Jaundiced Eye column appears in Weekend Argus, The Citizen, and Independent on Saturday. WSM is also a book reviewer for the Sunday Times and Business Day. Follow @TheJaundicedEye.


  1. marty marty 3 November 2014

    it is clear that most african leaders do not abide by civilised and accountable legal standards – zuma being one of these. And why should he as he is living the kind of life that is acceptable on the continent of africa where looting and corruption are as endemic as aids and ebola ?

  2. philosoraptor philosoraptor 3 November 2014

    It is blindingly obvious to most of the country, including Johannesburg and Pretoria motorists, that a user-pays system is the fairest way to fund new motorways, and that a fuel levy is the very best (and cheapest) user-pays method in existence. Burn up a litre of fuel, fund a bit of roadway, QED.

  3. philosoraptor philosoraptor 3 November 2014

    PS: Hope you’re right about him leaving. Me, I’m terrified of an engineered third term.

  4. Julian Frost Julian Frost 4 November 2014

    William, I have to take issue with your comment that:
    “The e-tolls controversy has defied rationality. Never mind that it is blindingly obvious to most of the country, aside from Johannesburg and Pretoria motorists, that a user-pays system is the fairest way to fund new motorways, the antipathy to e-tolls is not abating.”
    It’s not the “user pays” principle that has us up in arms, it’s the method of collection. The way this has been structured, a huge amount of money collected will go overseas to the company. Others have pointed out that increasing the fuel levy would have cost less and been more effective.

  5. Baz Baz 4 November 2014

    He may leave closing the gate quietly but with fabulous benefits to keep Nkandla in the it’s current accustomed style.
    Well written article with much more response be it – positive or negative.

  6. Rob Munro Rob Munro 4 November 2014

    Just go! #HesResigned #ZumasResigned

  7. Star# Star# 4 November 2014

    Its clear that Zuma has set a precedent that to be ignorant of procedures is a cool thing to do.

    Also Africans are cool with that too. They will elect him even in 2016.

    The impact of such leadership standards has clearly spilled on SABC where instead of throwing the individual out for falsifying qualifications, authorities actually have set a query on procedure standards followed. Not sure one should laugh or cry at this.

  8. mark mark 4 November 2014

    I think it is important to note that Zuma has basically admitted that he is not in control of anything, let alone his personal home. For somebody to say that he/she had no idea of upgrades that were going to be done to their assets is unfathomable.

    And while William is correct in describing the aloofness and brazen attitude JZ has towards the rule of law, everybody seems to have forgotten that Schabir Shaik testified that a French arms dealer offered to pay for Nkandla upgrades. then after that the names of Bohlabela Wheels and Vivien Reddy entered the fray with regard to Nkandla deals.

    So we can now fast forward to the present day, when JZ says he was paying for the upgrades with a bond., But now they are prosecuting errant rogue public servant employees who did this without JZs knowledge.

    Just on this issue alone, we can see that the president has no respect for us, and is very happy to lie to our faces.

    This is the primary reason why I will be leaving this country next year. If the president refuses to lead by example, why would anyone else obey the law. Coincidently this explains why our crime stats and general anti social behaviour is so rampant 20 years into a democracy.

    The longer JZ remains in power, the longer RSA will plummet towards third world status.

  9. Tlotleng Tlotleng Tlotleng Tlotleng 4 November 2014

    I think the president is showing sings of aging and for that reason only I think he must step-down and go home to enjoy life with his wifes, children and grand-kids. In the meantime, my perception about Nkandla still remains it was necessary only if it was well communicated with the public. There are two things at least we can learn here. We have upgrades for the safety of the president and family while ensuring that the president will have a home suited to his stature, but to steal was not an option. if this matter of privately upgrading the president house was well communicated within reason it would have saved the nation lot of money, but since we are been taken for a ride I think the African man and credible human being the president is he now know it was wring and in the African terms he knows he needs to return what wasn’t his. Let the young African leaders take their role and lead us to the better tomorrows as promised in the land act and the custodian document of our state the freedom charter.

  10. Franco Franco 4 November 2014

    The concern for me, is this the morality of the greater amount of people, that it is acceptable that the leader of their country, has got a longer and more impressive charge sheet than the average house burglar?

  11. Grim Reaper Grim Reaper 4 November 2014

    Wishful thinking. Sadly, the way flies buzz around rotten meat, so will Zuma stay fixed to power. What in earth’s name could dislodge him? Zuma now has a legacy and he has placed swathes of the ruling elite in their positions. And the elecorate that vote him in are illiterate and look admiringly to him for his defiance of the historical system that is still used to subjegate them. No, Zuma, and his appointees are here to stay.
    Any “analysis” as the above is in a long line of wishful articles.

  12. Bobinatorz Bobinatorz 4 November 2014

    To believe that Zuma would be ousted before the end of his term is naive.
    Our President has had hooks in his back (i’m looking at you, Shaiks and Guptas et al) since he started his first term, and those players will not have their money tree chopped down.

  13. Mariano Castrillon Mariano Castrillon 4 November 2014

    He must be forced to quit together with those who protect him. If not, the ANC at large will not survive another four years in power.

  14. bernpm bernpm 4 November 2014

    “Close the gate quietly behind you when you leave, Mr President…..”.

    The handover from the NP was -in African traditions- the most quiet handover in Africa’s history. With Mr Zuma giving all signs to strive to a dictatorial position, I am not so sure that his departure will go without some stones thrown in a variety of directions.

    The Public Protector largely ignored and for others to follow….The judiciary operating like a lame duck, the cabinet majority under direct command of the ANC and Zuma….interference from the ANC in the Western Cape with a ban on farm evictions “legal or illegal” as ordered by the ANC VP and lately a shadowy interference in the news producers on TV and probably other interferences to come to protect Herr President.

    It all makes me think that Herr Zuma’s departure or the departure of the ANC will not go without some sable rattling. The continuous attempts from the ANC to “win” back the Cape Province is certainly not just to create a post for mr Ehrenreich and looks more than just an election move.

    I am surprised that the opposition parties have not responded to the dictatorial behavior of the current Herr President, closely followed by his deputy as in the recent undemocratic ban on evictions in the W Cape.

  15. Wayne van Niekerk Wayne van Niekerk 4 November 2014

    “…a triumph of the brazen over the righteous.” What an eloquent phrase!

  16. Chloe Chloe 4 November 2014

    The question is not whether or when he will kindly close the gate behind him when he leaves.
    It is how much he keeps of what’s behind the gate (paid for by us),. how much (of our money) does he still get for bringing the country to its knees (not in his laudation), but because he left it on its last legs. Despite many calls for it, Zuma will avoid impeachment or facing trial. He will go on ducking and diving until maybe ‘ill health’ will necessitate his having to retire on an enormously comfortable income (our money) to the opulence of Nkandla (our money) while he leaves the country in a state of collapse and lives it up (on our money).

    Zuma doesn’t owe us for Nkandlagate. He owes us for a country which is down the drain – even though drains too ,like our power stations, will become useless once our water also dries up … A country which due to Zuma’s inability, inefficiency, cronyism and pure self-enrichment is a now in a complete mess.

  17. Momma Cyndi Momma Cyndi 4 November 2014

    You are missing the elephant in the room. There is no credible opposition. Other than the e-toll mess, the Pretoria Mayor is pretty awesome. Sure, we have the R10 pencils and the R800 shovels – among other annoyances – but, all in all, our Mayor Ramokgopa does a good job. I don’t even know who the opposition candidates are. They certainly haven’t been making themselves known.

    The ANC wins by default. That is the sad reality of the elections. Gauteng is angry with the ANC but nobody is giving us any credible alternatives. We don’t want our pubs shut at 12 pm on a Saturday evening and we don’t want to have to explain why our dog barked for more than 38.764 seconds when the mailman came. We don’t want to nationalise the local Spur or have our (mortgaged) property liberated. So who do we vote for?

  18. Trevor Trevor 5 November 2014

    Basic and well-attested African inertia will see that he stays, together with the back-up of smoke and mirrors. What does this say about our country? (Still proudly South African? You gotta be kidding me.) JZ probably has it right, which is basically to say that the unintelligent are in control. That is, only intelligent people are concerned about his leadership.

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