By Janine Erasmus
Accountability (noun): the fact or condition of being accountable; responsibility (Oxford).
If the Public Members Unit Team (PMUT) has its way, South Africans will be paying for the R247-million upgrades to President Jacob Zuma’s private Nkandla residence not once – but twice. And Number One won’t bear the burden of accountability any more.
The use of taxpayers’ money to fund the upgrades – which included a visitors’ centre, chicken run, cattle kraal and the much-maligned fire pool – has been the subject of contention for months. In March this year the public protector, Thuli Madonsela, released a highly-anticipated report on her investigation into the matter, in which she concluded that Zuma had benefitted improperly from the construction project and should pay back at least a portion of it to the state.
The PMUT made headlines in October when it offered to pay back the money on Zuma’s behalf – although it admitted at the same time that it did not have that amount in its coffers. Today a report in Beeld reveals that the PMUT has set up two SMS lines which will enable people to contribute towards its cause.
So not only has the public already unwillingly contributed towards the excessive spending at Nkandla, but now they are asked to voluntarily contribute again, simply by sending an SMS with the word “Amandla” to one of two numbers and automatically donating R5 or R30, depending on which number is used.
This is the first of a number of similar fund-raising initiatives, the PMUT’s Sylvester Mathebula said yesterday in Johannesburg – a golf day has been mentioned as a possibility. However, the PMUT doesn’t yet know how much money must be raised, or where to pay it over once it has succeeded with the former.
According to the newspaper report, a Johannesburg firm of attorneys confirmed its appointment to oversee the collection process. “We have been mandated to set up the legal structure to facilitate the PMUT’s future plans,” said a representative of the firm.
Whether the PMUT succeeds in its goal or not, the fact remains that the debt is not its to pay – it is Zuma’s. It's not the public's responsibility, either. The campaign effectively takes the accountability away from Zuma, and sends a message that impunity in this case is condoned.
• Janine Erasmus is the website editor of Corruption Watch.