Nkandla – The Last Resort

Kleinpiet will tell you: people are strange. They laugh at things that aren’t funny, and when you make a joke, they sit there with sad faces. If you ask him to explain, he’ll tell you about Nkandla.

***

“The president is building a new house,” Servaas tries to sound well-informed, “and it’s costing a fortune. I guess he must have a sturdy Swiss bank account worth quite something.”

“No man!” Gertruida can’t stand half-truths. “He isn’t paying the R248 million – we are! It’s taxpayer’s money that will disappear down that drain into the bunker.  And, I’ll have you know: it’s not a house – it’s an entire estate, with many houses and conference facilities. The money you are talking about is just for an upgrade anyway, the place was built a few years ago – with government money, according to some. It’s a private home… and to top it all, others say it was constructed with corruption money. A certain Mr Shaik was apparently involved.”

“Gosh, I’d like to spend that on Kleinpiet’s house. It can do with a lick of paint.” Precilla has that far-away look of a woman intent on redecorating. It’s a dangerous sign.

“If you feel like that, imagine what the poor prez must endure. He has many wives – and some say even more than 40 children. Once they all start hollering for separate rooms with personalised interior designs, it must be a nightmare. Can you imagine the suffering the poor man must endure?” Boggel pushes new beers over the counter. “We can’t allow a fellow human to bear such hardship – it’s right that we must help.”

“But Boggel, I hear he’s even got a bunker –  in case of a terrorist attack, he says. You ask me, and I’ll tell you: that bunker is to escape from the family. They say he can survive down there for a long time, so there must be kitchens, bedrooms, a few store rooms and maybe even a billiard table. No, I don’t agree. If a man wants to escape from his family, he can go and play golf. It’s much cheaper. Or he can go on a world tour to tell people Nkandla used to be a last resort; a hiding place for fleeing Zulu warriors. I mean, he’s got an aeroplane – he might as well use it.”

“I think that’s what he’s trying to do, Gertruida.” Vetfaan remembers the border war and how he sometimes wished the shooting would just stop. “And he’s in a hurry, too. One of these days his party must announce the candidate for the next presidential term – if he loses that one, he’ll want to retire in style. But, being the brilliant strategist he is, he can now tell the country the compound will be the ideal place to host the visiting dignitaries after his re-election. You can’t entertain Mugabe in your local sleazy motel now, can you? Or imagine Queen Elizabeth in Nkandla’s Bed-and-Breakfast?  No, the president deserves a hide-away where he can relax with his friends. It’s the least we can do.”

“But it’s crazy, Vetfaan! I heard the fence around the property cost over nine million, the elevators almost two million, and the bullet-proof glass two-and-a-half million. You know what that means, don’t you? Even if he escapes down the secret elevator after a quarrel with one of the women, he can’t get out – the fences will stop him. The poor, poor man!”  As an Italian, old Marco knows a lot about women. “Maybe that’s what the bunker is for.”

“I think it’s a prison.” Servaas sips his beer as he thinks it through. “Yes, that’s it! He can put up his family and lock them up at the same time. That’ll give him a free hand if he wants to go a-courting again.”

They’re still laughing when Oudoom shuffles in to sit down with a sigh. “Give me a Cactus, Boggel. A double.”

A hushed silence follows the request. It’s not even eleven o’ clock and Oudoom is ordering a drink? He must have serious matters on his mind to do this.

“What’s wrong, Dominee? Trouble in Paradise?” A good barman can always get the story.

Oudoom gulps the drink down and signals for another. “It’s Mevrou. She wants new curtains for the living room. You know what that means, don’t you? Next is the carpet, then the furniture. Pretty soon it’ll be the bedrooms and the bathroom – and don’t forget the kitchen. That stove is ancient, I must admit.”

They all sympathise with the clergyman. He’s facing a huge undertaking and it’ll cost him a lot of money. This, at a time when even the honest tithers have had to cut back on their contributions.

Precilla pumps Kleinpiet in the ribs. He’s got that twinkle in his eyes that suggests some mischievous idea. “Whatever it is, don’t say it,” she hisses.

He ignores her. “Hey, Oudoom, do what the prez did with the arms deal. Buy a new organ for the church, man. You can make a lot of money like that.”

The humour is lost on the troubled pastor. Sighing heavily at the devious thoughts that abound in his flock, he shuffles out again. Better face the devil you know…

“Now see what you did, Kleinpiet! You shouldn’t have said that. Shame on you…”

“It’s just a joke, Love.” He puts a soothing arm around her shoulders. “It’s all such a stupid, silly joke. We can only laugh at all this – it’s our last line of defence. They can take away our pride, pulverise our image abroad and demolish democracy – but they can’t take away our laughter. We can only blame ourselves if we allow that.”

***

He can’t understand why now, here, with all the jokes going around, nobody laughs at his gag. That’s why, if you ask him about laughter, he’ll tell you about Nkandla. He says it proves his point: people laugh about our politics –  but it’s not funny at all. But when you make a great joke – Zapiro is good at this – the president wants to take you to court.

He’ll always conclude by saying how funny is that – and then be disappointed when nobody laughs.

See Zapiro’s work here: http://www.zapiro.com/Cartoons

10 thoughts on “Nkandla – The Last Resort

  1. Rita van der Linde

    I was so delighted when I found I could get Imagine Africa on the Kindle. I have read quite a lot of the stories and love each and every one. Sure you will too Harold. Jy het n groot talent Amos, bly dit is nie onder n maatemmer weggesteek nie.

    Reply
  2. colonialist

    Very appropriate music.
    I love the church organ analogy!
    A satirist has a hard job in today’s SA. Simple unadulterated fact seems so much like satire that it becomes difficult to exaggerate it.

    Reply
      1. Rita van der Linde

        Trevor Noa is seker die snaakste kommediant wat ek nog gesien het, moet byvoeg ek is nie vreeslik erg oor komedie nie, seker is hy eintlik n satiris want hy leef nou in die gelukkige tyd wat
        elke ding wat in die regering en land van ons gebeur niks anders as n satire is nie. Nog makliker vir hom as destyds vir Pieter Dirk Uys, want hy beledig tog niemand meer as homself as hy van kleur praat nie. As you say Amos, fact is indeed more inventive in SA than fiction.

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