‘The President South Africa never had’
There is a saying in isiXhosa that goes, ‘Kuhlekwa noba kufiwe’. Basically, even at a time of tragedy there are still moments of laughter. As the tragedy that was Minister Nathi Nhleko unfolded before my eyes as he tabled, showcased and screened his report on Nkandla, I felt tears of anguish and outbursts of laughter altogether. Indeed a tragicomedy. It was the assault on reason. Any thinking mind that can wrap itself around such display of callousness and find sense deserves a Bell’s.
Missing in our discussion about Nkandla is the central question on why does a President, who boasts of his party being elected by an overwhelming majority, need such extreme security measures? The very President who when transported to dreamland whilst delivering a speech imagines the African National Congress ruling until Jesus comes. Surely, this is a man assured of his popularity.
It would be interesting to learn what constitutes a security threat against the President and who is or are the sources of this threat. In his book titled ‘The assault on reason’, former Vice-President of the United States of America, Al Gore warns citizens to guard against prioritising illusory threats over real ones. He argues that leaders who are fearmongerers hoodwink citizens towards misguided priorities – such as legitimising Nkandla splurging. Let us be honest, it is neither automatic nor the subject of logic that simply because someone is a President they require state of the art security, even when no material and real threat exists.
Surely the enemy of the people’s president is the enemy of the state, only if it exists and is not illusory. I have no doubt that if requested; the Minister of Police would present the threat against the President in a 3-minute video clip as faceless ninjas clad in balaclavas, ready to attack with AK-47s. Safe to say, such is the nature of illusory threats. Al Gore, citing Barry Glassner, notes that fearmongering thrives through the implementation of three basic techniques; repetition, making the irregular seem regular and misdirection. All these techniques were present with each stroke Minister Nhleko took wiping away the burning sweat of dishonesty. Nkandla was more a creation of a palatial residence than a security haven.
The recent FIFA scandal with the proverbial FBI busting and cracking corruption in the world football’s backyard made me think of Uruguay. The country that birthed Suarez, whose sleek combination with Neymar and Messi has seen Barcelona succeed beautifully this season. This country did not just birth football; it has also birthed the greatest President of our time. The revolutionary Jose Mujica who recently stepped down as president, after serving one term. In Uruguay a President cannot serve two terms consecutively – what relief we could have been enjoying had 2014 been the last with the incumbent president at least for the next five years.
When President Mujica was inaugurated in 2010, he refused his presidential house, continued to use his 1987 VW Beetle and elected to donate 90% ($12 000) of his salary to charity. He drove himself and refused being tailed by the blue lights brigade. Living with his wife in their farmhouse just outside the capital city of Montevideo, Mujica was dubbed ‘the world’s poorest president’ – a title he strongly rejected. This is a president who queued up with fellow citizens when needing medical care in state health institutions.
In one of his interviews he counselled fellow leaders saying, “All I do is live like the majority of my people, not the minority. I’m living a normal life and Italian, Spanish leaders should also live as their people do. They shouldn’t be aspiring to or copying a rich minority.” He should have also included South African leaders who copy the rich minority at the doorstep of poverty, flaunting their wealth flamboyantly amongst the destitute people of Nkandla. It is this need to be ‘the rich’ amongst the poor that breeds social discontent and a sense of insecurity.
If the threat against the South African President is not an illusory one, it must be that he is under threat from his own citizens. Mujica shows us that leaders who are rooted within their communities and citizens are not only safe but gain a greater degree of social acceptance. An appraisal of Mujica’s presidential term by the BBC determined that he was leaving behind ‘a relatively healthy economy and with social stability those bigger neighbours could only dream of’. This is a man whose struggle credentials taught him deep devotion for his people and the revolutionary cause.
Those who are ‘secure in comfort’ in Nkandla have used their struggle credentials to be agents of fearmogering, selling us illusory threats as priorities. Their legacy will leave South Africans hoping that they had been favoured with a Mujica in their lifetime.
Article by Lukhona Mnguni