Somehow, YOU’s Dana Snyman found himself a guest in the Nkandla home of the president’s nephew Khulubuse Zuma. And it got a little weird.
The policeman at the boom shakes his head. Yes, he says, there’s a visitors’ centre inside but at the moment no one’s allowed to visit. Sorry.
“You must go,” he says. “You must go.”
Two cameras watch us from a pole. The buildings, paved roads and open spaces here at the entrance to President Jacob Zuma’s residence in Nkandla, near Eshowe deep in KwaZulu-Natal, are new and modern.
To the right of the boom is an office from which the policeman has just come, a long building with dark-tinted windows and the kind of X-ray machine you find at airports.
To the left is another long building. The door is open. Against one wall are shelves packed with goods – tins of bully beef, beans, biscuits, soap and jars of Vaseline. This must be the famous tuck shop of the president’s first wife, Gertrude Khumalo.
There’s been a lot written about it in the newspapers. It was built for a few hundred thousand rand because it was apparently a security risk for MaKhumalo to have it outside the presidential complex. The policeman gives a weak smile. If we want to we can buy ourselves a cooldrink in MaKhumalo’s shop. And he’ll have one too. We get out of our car. A rooster crows constantly nearby.
It feels a bit unreal to be here where President Zuma has built himself virtually a small village, surrounded by a double security fence, with separate houses for each of his four wives, an underground parking area, an amphitheatre and visitors’ centre, two helicopter landing pads, an escape tunnel, a cattle enclosure and a swimming pool.
Then, suddenly, things start getting weirder because a quad bike comes racing down the road driven by a large heavy-set man in a snow-white silk tunic.
He’s instantly recognisable as Khulubuse Zuma, the president’s notorious nephew who’s often in the news because of his business transactions and flashy lifestyle. He stops where we’re parked.
On his left wrist sparkles a Swiss Audemars Piguet watch, costing anything between R50 000 and more than R200 000. He starts questioning us suspiciously.
We’re just looking around, we explain. We’d thought we could go to the visitors’ centre. “Just wait here. I’ll be back soon.”
Then he races off again.
TURNS out MaKhumalo’s expensive tuck shop is just a smallish room with shelving on one wall. There’s a fridge in one corner. Not a counter or cash register in sight. MaKhumalo, who married Jacob Zuma in 1973, isn’t here at the moment; her niece, Lungile, is working today.
Lungile sits on a white plastic chair with a book and pen in her lap. At her feet is a dogeared English/Zulu dictionary.
She sleeps in the presidential complex at night but isn’t sure how many people live there. “Lots,” she says. “Lots and lots.”
Construction here at Nkandla has cost about R246 million to date, public protector Thuli Madonsela found in an independent inquiry into the project.
The policeman looks in at the doorway and angrily talks to Lungile in Zulu. She bows her head and refuses to say anything more.
The small office building to the right of the boom cost about R1,2 million to build, according to Madonsela’s report – the price of a house in an affluent suburb. It consists of two rooms and a toilet with a faulty flush handle and a missing lid. Some of the wall tiles have been chipped out.
A few minutes later the president’s nephew again roars up on the quad bike, his tunic flapping in the wind. “Come!” he shouts, raising his arm. “Follow me!”
We don’t drive through the boom. He races up a new road outside the security fence, past the 20 new rondavels built behind the presidential complex at a cost of more than R17 million to house the president’s guards and other members of staff.
The land here is hilly, full of valleys and plains. Everywhere, for kilometre after kilometre, you see traditional Zulu kraals: a few nondescript rondavels with a cattle enclosure nearby.
President Zuma was born in such a kraal and tended cattle as a boy. The presidential complex used to look similar until six or seven years ago.
But there are no old rondavels here. The president’s brothers, Mike and Joseph, have also acquired houses here outside the security fence
We turn off onto a narrower paved road and are now on the president’s nephew’s property, surrounded by four, five, six houses – all new and modern. In the middle is a cattle enclosure which hasn’t seen a cow for quite a while, because there’s no sign of droppings.
He stops in front of one of the houses, close to a newish Range Rover.
His handshake is limp and his voice soft. “Call me Khulu,” he says. “I’ve got nothing to hide.” He gestures around. “I didn’t even pay R14 million for everything you see here – not even R14 million.”
Then he shouts loudly across the property: “Gogo!” A small woman comes out of one of the houses. “This is my second wife,” he says pointing to her. “I’ve got four wives.”
Her name is Sibuyle, and she sinks almost to her knees as she greets us. Khulu goes through the back door of one of the houses.
In the kitchen stand four large Samsung fridges, brand-new and still in cardboard boxes. On a counter are two Zulu Bibles. He settles on one of three leather couches in the lounge and of his own accord starts talking about his uncle, the president.
“One thing I can tell you, Baba is innocent,” he says. “He wasn’t aware of what all the building [here at Nkandla] is costing. Baba also didn’t ask for a swimming pool to be built. It was just done.”
That’s what Khulu calls the president: Baba. Father. “There are two things you need to know about a good Zulu,” he says. “A good Zulu believes in God and believes the ancestors watch what you’re doing all the time.
“I pray every day. Every day.” He lifts an arm to show me the broad bracelet around his wrist. It’s made of silver, gold and diamonds. It’s embellished with the name Zuma.
He strokes the bracelet. “I designed it myself. It reminds me to pray every day. First I pray to God, then to the ancestors.
“I don’t know if Baba prays every day but he also prays to God and the ancestors – just like me. He also doesn’t smoke or drink, nothing,
About the luxury Audemars Piguet watch on his left wrist he’s not prepared to talk. “It’s a gift. I’m not going to say any more.”
THERE’S no cornering Khulu with questions. He firmly believes in his uncle’s innocence. “I feel sorry for Baba,” he says. “I’ve already asked him, ‘Baba, why don’t you leave everything? Rather go on retirement’.”
He smiles to himself. “But you know, Baba is a politician. He won’t just do it.”
Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and other opposition parties have repeatedly demanded the president pay back a sizeable portion of the R246 million that was spent here. “Baba can’t pay back the money because then he’s actually saying he’s guilty.”
Khulu rubs his cheek, which has a fine scar – the mark of his clan.
Khulu doesn’t want to discuss his own business activities. “I’ve learnt to rather keep quiet about that. I see myself as an international entrepreneur. That’s all I can say.”
He was involved in the controversial closing of the Aurora gold mine near Springs in Gauteng, where bankruptcy left hundreds of workers destitute.
“I have nothing to feel guilty about with Aurora. I also don’t feel guilty about my money. I’ve worked very, very hard for it.”
His cellphone rings and he answers immediately. A young girl enters the room with a basin of lukewarm water and a hand towel. She kneels down so we can both wash our hands because we’re about to eat.
“I’m on my way to Ghana, or Kenya,” Khulusays to the person at the other end of the phone. “I have to go sign something.”
Later he asks, “Don’t you know anyone in Mali?”
The major construction here at Nkandla started in 2009 after President Zuma was inaugurated.
“I started advising Baba about the building,” he says. “We’d just started building when the general and ministers arrived and saidwwe’ll have to consider the security of the place. They made all sorts of suggestions with which Baba had nothing to do.
“As a family we started building here together. It’s a Zulu tradition: you don’t ever leave the place where you were born and raised. You always return. This is a place like that to us.”
To say exactly how many people the Zuma clan consists of is difficult. Khulu counts on his fingers and in his head. Almost all the Zuma men have a lot of children, with more than one woman.
“I’d say there are about 170 in our clan.” They meet one another from time to time here at the presidential homestead.
Khulu’s cellphone rings again. This time he’s talking to someone who’s on his way to China.
Sibuyle and the young girl arrive with TV trays for each of us bearing a plate of food: a piece of sausage, bacon, eggs, a few slices of bread and a can of Fanta Grape.
Khulu lowers his phone and brings the TV tray closer to him. He’s not happy with his sausage. “Gogo!” he calls again. Sibuyle comes to him. He puts the sausage on a side plate and gives it back to her.
“Give me a kiss,” he says, then pulls her closer and gives her a glancing kiss on the cheek. Sibuyle looks embarrassed.
“This wife of mine is so shy.” Khulu laughs and gestures to the two Bibles on the cupboards. “Those are her Bibles. She so loves reading those Bibles.”
YOU get a good idea of what it must be like to be a Zuma – one of Nkandla’s Zumas – sitting here with Khulu. His phone rings constantly, and it sounds as if everyone wants a favour of some kind from him.
A stranger has also just knocked on the door. He has his CV with him and wants to know if Khulu has a job for him.
“You have to see how it goes here when Baba is visiting.” Khulu points in the direction of the presidential complex. “The people queue up at the house to see him, hundreds of them. Everyone wants assistance.
“Baba tries to speak to everyone personally. Sometimes he gets to bed only at four in the morning.”
Khulu suddenly remembers something. He picks up his phone and calls a number. Someone answers. It sounds as if it’s a bank because Khulu asks the person to transfer – and he mentions a very large amount – from one account to another. Just like that.
He puts down the phone and once again his voice echoes as he shouts, “Gogo!” She enters and he says something to her in Zulu.
“Thuli Madonsela can say what she wants but I’m going to carry on building here,” he continues our conversation. “You can go and have a look. There’s still building going on at Baba’s place as well.”
The four huge fridges standing here are for the enormous kitchen being built on Khulu’s property. Although he’s paid lobola for four women he’s yet to officially marry any of them. But he plans to marry Swazi princess Fikisiwe Dlamini later this month.
“The wedding will be here at my house. Baba will also be here.” He’s silent for a moment. “You know, being a Zuma isn’t always easy.
“Now, while I was trying to arrange the wedding I spoke to several events companies. I want two tents to be put up here and everyone must get food to eat. One company quoted me R4 million. Another quoted me R400 000 for exactly the same job. Obviously I took the one for R400 000.”
He leans forward as if he’s about to share a secret. “If you want to know the truth, I also can’t believe it took more than R200 million to build Baba’s place. It sounds like too much to me.”
Sibuyle arrives with a tray. On it is a bottle of Johnnie Walker Platinum – 18 years old, single malt. It costs around R1 000 a bottle at a good liquor store.
Khulu gives a high-pitched laugh. “No one leaves here before first having a drink.”
IT’S late afternoon. We once again drive past the presidential complex, along the security fence, with the sound of the EFF MPs’ droning voices in my head, singing as they did recently in parliament, “Give back the money! Give back the money!”
At one spot there’s a hole in the security fence. MaKhumalo’s tuck shop is closed. A small herd of goats graze among the thatch-roof houses that cost R17 million.
It looks as if the complex was built in a haphazard fashion. Some structures have thatch roofs, others corrugated iron. Some are square and others kidney- shaped.
In her report Madonsela says Jean Rindel, the department of public works’ project manager who was involved in the construction project, said it was like completing a puzzle without a picture. At a cost of R246 million.
At the high school opposite the presidential compound you learn something else about how the Zumas operate. PK Zondi, a teacher at the school, tells us the president and Khulubuse helped her son, Mthokozisi, to be able to study in Germany.
“I went to the see the president here at his home and asked him for money for my child’s studies. He said he’d see what he could do and then he gave me his cellphone number and said I must call him. He organised that I got money through Khulu.”
We drive back in the direction of Eshowe, the nearest big town to Nkandla. At the Lindela Tea Room something catches the eye.
Parked outside is a quad bike. We pull over. The Lindela Tea Room is actually a shebeen. At first I think my eyes are deceiving me but there Khulu is, standing at a pool table.
He’s playing against one of the locals – a guy in a T-shirt full of holes. A few men in ragged clothes are watching. It’s Khulu’s turn to take a shot. The Zuma armband and Audemars Piguet wristwatch shine in the gloomy light. He leans heavily over the table. International entrepreneur. A man with four wives. Nonofficial adviser to the president.
I look at him and he looks at me, and I can’t help thinking what he said earlier at his home: “You shouldn’t be too quick to criticise other people – especially not their faith. You shouldn’t try to understand everything. You must just believe what you see.”