NKANDLA, South Africa- Set in the countryside of his hometown of Nkandla, South African President Jacob Zuma enjoys the rural landscape of Zululand from his sprawling compound that cost $206 million to renovate. Spending roughly $20 million, the otherwise popular President faces scorn from a public outraged by such a gross expenditure of public funding.
Due in part to his modest upbringing along with his 10 year detention on Robben Island alongside Nelson Mandela for conspiring against the apartheid government, Zuma has been a popular figure among poor South Africans, even earning the title “the people’s president.” Unfortunately, his popularity may wane in the shadow of his colossal home.
According to government officials, the upgrades to his homestead, including a helipad, underground bunker and 25 buildings for the President’s bodyguards were necessary for national security. However, opposition leaders have voiced complaints over such statements.
On Thursday, Cabinet members of the African National Congress went so far as to bar any photos taken of the residence, proclaiming it a national key point thereby making it illegal to publicize images of possible security features on the home.
Regardless of the threat of imprisonment, editors of national newspapers continued to publish photos of the complex, and according to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), stated they have a right to see the upgrades the public sponsored.
At this time, South Africa’s public protector, Thuli Madonsela, is investigating the compound’s upgrades, including claims that building costs were greatly inflated. Until her report is published, one might want to see all of the things Zuma’s chateau could have purchased for the fight against global poverty.
1. Two million mosquito nets. For just $10 each, Nothing But Nets (NBN) purchases, delivers and educates the recipient of their very own insecticide-treated net. As of right now, NBN has already provided seven million nets across Africa. In one swoop, President Zuma could have increased that number by nearly 30 percent.
2. 500,000 HIV screenings. The United Nations estimated that over six million people are living with HIV in South Africa. Based on a study conducted by the Division of Infectious Disease, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital, annual HIV screenings in South Africa resulted in a nearly 17 month increased life expectancy from those who receive only one screening in their lifetime. For price of an underground bunker, thousands of Zuma’s constituency could have received treatment.
3. 1,000 new school libraries in Africa. The non-profit Room to Read provides the tools to learn in over 10 different countries on two separate continents. Including libraries, books available in the recipients native language and school facilities, Room to Read optimizes all of its funding in creative and useful ways.
4. One third of the grants Aliko Dangote gave to women and youths across Nigeria. Africa’s richest man, Dangote established a foundation that is “meant to enable recipients to meet immediate family and livelihood needs by providing a one-time grant to start up enterprises.” With 10 billion grants, or $62 million, Dangote focuses his philanthropy on women who suffer the most from poverty.
5. One million food baskets. The organization Care.org is committed to serving the poorest communities in over 80 countries. For $13 dollars per basket, Care is sending provisions to support the 13.25 million in need of food, clean water, and clothing.
Broken down, even the smallest fraction of what President Kuma spent on his home would help fight poverty.