Nwabisa Makunga: JZ paid – but does this settle it?

NwabisaMakungaAnd so, finally he paid. After all that: the kicking and screaming, the giggling, the arrogance and the proverbial middle finger we had become so used to.

Jacob Zuma finally paid back to the taxpayer R7.8-million of the money spent on non-security upgrades to his Nkandla home.

Legally it is the right thing to do. He was ordered by the public protector and subsequently by the Constitutional Court to do so.

Yet morally, the payment remains a hollow gesture. Precisely because he was compelled to make it.

In typical Zuma fashion, the details of the payment itself raise several questions.

We are told he secured a loan from the VBS Mutual Bank, a relatively small institution which made a mere R4.9-million net profit in the last financial year and is owned in part by the Public Investment Corporation.

Naturally, this loan has thrown the bank into the spotlight. Critics have questioned its liquidity.

And that, let’s face it, it is partly owned by the taxpayer and has now come to the rescue to help Zuma pay his bill to the taxpayer leaves a sour taste in the mouth.

In response to the criticism, Zuma supporters predictably interpreted this as an unwarranted attack by white liberals and clever blacks on a wholly black-owned financial institution.

My concern about this deal is neither the bank’s bottom line nor the futile and insulting debate unfolding about whether or not black people can run successful businesses.

Frankly, if this bank’s shareholders believe it is financially viable to lend R7.8-million to a 74-year-old man, then so be it.

My scepticism is about the man at the centre of it all: Jacob Zuma himself.

It is about affordability and willingness on his part.

Whether Zuma can afford to make the payments is highly in doubt. The president has a recorded history of poor stewardship of his personal finances and a propensity to rely on others to pick up his tab.

To be fair, I must point out that he is not the first nor the last South African to have robbed Peter to pay Paul whenever the going gets tough. However, when you are the head of state, the responsibility for financial discipline becomes far higher for you than it is for the average Nwabisa.

Second, and perhaps more important, the scepticism about this deal stems from whether or not we, as South Africans, believe Zuma is in fact willing to part with R80 000 of his salary every month until he is 94 years old. Herein lies the crux of the matter.

The conduct of the president in recent years, particularly with regard to the Nkandla scandal, has taught us that he is a man with questionable moral character.

Despite the people in his inner circle often describing him as a selfless and humble individual, his actions have time and time again shown him up to be a man completely absorbed with power, personal gain and that of his family and friends.

This is why it is important for us to question whether Zuma has any intention of spending a cent of his own money to honour his commitment to the bank. If he does not, who will pay this bill for him?

For what gain? And at what cost to this nation?

This is why it is highly disingenuous for those who have always shielded Zuma from accountability to now suggest that his payment of the Nkandla money closes this ugly chapter in our nation. It does not.

The payment is simply that: cold, hard cash.

It will hopefully pay for a much needed public service somewhere in this country, as it should have in the first place. But it does not restore the complete breakdown of public confidence in Zuma’s ability or willingness to lead this nation with integrity.

It will not reverse what businessman Sipho Pityana termed as unmitigated chaos in our country’s corridors of power.

It does not atone for Zuma’s consistent disregard for our constitution. It is no restitution for breaking his oath of office.

Nor does it compensate for using every state apparatus at his disposal to dodge accountability.

Perhaps more than any other Zuma scandal before it, the Nkandla issue also became a mirror through which we saw a true reflection of ourselves as a nation.

It revealed the shocking lows to which some leaders will go to protect their narrow access to the feeding trough.

But equally, this saga reminded us of who we are as a people. A nation with a valuable and entrenched culture of active citizenship.

It displayed our collective ability to stand and fight to protect our constitution and to preserve our hardearned democracy.

Such a fighting spirit will certainly be our saving grace in the bumpy road ahead.

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