SOUTH Africa’s rabble-rousing politician Julius Malema had me at “Pay Back The Money”.
For those who missed the drama, South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma was heckled during a Q&A Parliamentary session on Thursday, with Malema and about 20 members of his opposition Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) Party defying Speaker Baleka Mbete’s orders to leave the House.
Instead they chanted, “Pay back the money” for what must have been 10 or so minutes. It’s not often that we see anyone standing up to powerful men – and women – who have allegedly turned national treasuries into personal accounts, so if for nothing else, the EFF show is something we should all celebrate, given the runaway that is eating away this fair continent.
Zuma’s body language
It is said a picture is worth a thousand words, and Zuma’s body language, as Malema demanded a date when Zuma would cough up the money spent on security upgrades on his Nkandla country residence was priceless.
Hopefully, South Africans can pile on the pressure for their president to not only pay back a “reasonable percentage” of the estimated $20 million that Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela ordered should be refunded, but the entire amount he blew, money that could have been better spent putting more South Africans to work or through school.
It would make sense if upgrades and renovations were done on official residences that would be occupied by subsequent presidents, as happens in the US with the White House that has been home to every US president since 1800 or Britain’s 10 Downing Street, which is over 300 years old.
Zuma may be hogging all the headlines right now but he’s not the only one living large.
Other African excesses
In the early 2000s, renovation works began on Uganda’s State House, located in Entebbe, the country’s nominal administrative capital and lakeside town. The project was partially funded by the Chinese government, which offered over $5 million.
At some point, the completely habitable structures were torn down and new structures constructed in preparation for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Summit (CHOGM) that Uganda hosted in November 2007. Total cost was $93 million, again reportedly partially funded with a grant from the Chinese. According to a 2008 article by the BBC’s David Amanor, Ghana’s Golden Jubilee House which houses the president’s office and also serves as a residence was initially budgeted for $30 million, financed with a grant from the Indian government as official sources claimed. Later, reports revealed that the final cost rose to $135 million following the addition of security-enhancing facilities. The palace has since been renamed Flagstaff House. No prizes for guessing who’s picking up the tab over a 25-year period.
And, according to an article in newzimbabwe.com, the country’s decades long-ruling president Robert Mugabe has a three-storey, 25-bedroom palace whose décor includes marble imported from Italy, Chinese-style midnight blue roof tiles from Shanghai, sunken baths and a Jacuzzi I doubt he ever uses. There are also apartments for children and friends, a helicopter pad, a multi-million pound radar system and so many other facilities. Total cost? $5 million, US not Zimbabwean!
In 2012, The Telegraph reported that mini state houses were being planned for Hifikepunye Pohamba, Namibia’s president, in each of the country’s 13 regions so he wouldn’t have to stay in hotels where numerous “unknown people stayed and many evil things happen”! Overall cost is thought to have been £92 million. Four years earlier, Namibians had also paid for the president’s official residence in Windhoek, which had cost £46 million.
In princely sum of $100 million was spent on Kamuzu Palace, named after Malawi’s founding President, Kamuzu Banda. It sits on 1,332 acres and has 300 air-conditioned rooms. No wonder it took 20 years to complete.
The bill for the presidential complex in Mozambique was $71.8 million. Located in Maputo, it was funded with a loan from China’s Exim Bank, as the country’s Finance Minister Manuel Chang informed members of parliament. The complex includes offices and a residence for the president, a meeting room for cabinet sessions, a banqueting hall, a big car park and several other beautiful features. Mozambicans need not worry though for they have 20 years to clear the Chinese.
Renovations and maintenance works on Botswana president Ian Khama’s official residence have cost $2.5 million over the last 10 years. Compared to the others, that is small change!