IS IT true that political and business elites are skating on tons of butter while the masses are choking on dry bread, or are we being fed porkies by sections of the media and the political enemies of President Jacob Zuma?
I am not referring to the World Bank report, which highlighted our country's shameful reality of inequality and lack of opportunity for many who were oppressed during apartheid. I will come back to the report the moment that being lynched by the apologists of the economic order - which, to some extent, has produced the three plagues of inequality, poverty and unemployment - becomes a possibility. For now, I will take my chances with Zuma's supporters.
Zuma is being accused of Nkandlaneering. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, the president's homestead is located in a place in northern KwaZulu-Natal that is known as Nkandla - Inkandla to those of us whose accents compel them to add the letter "i" in front of African words.
Zuma is being accused of trying to win the battle for the leadership of the African National Congress (ANC) by delivering state and private sector resources, also known as money, to Nkandla. It is alleged by his former disciples in the ANC Youth League that this money is going to be used for the transformation of Nkandla into a mini-New York.
I suppose his political opponents are insinuating that Zuma wants to emulate his predecessor, Thabo Mbeki, by becoming a renaissance man - the man who will play a leading role in what future generations will call, not the Harlem Renaissance, but the Nkandla Renaissance. According to media reports, the renaissance will entail expenditure by the government and the private sector to the tune of R2bn to turn Nkandla into a mini-Bloemfontein, with clinics, schools, housing and the renovation of Zuma's homestead for a modest sum of between R69m and R400m. Before I continue, if we must speculate credibly about budget allocations, we must make sure the gap between two figures is not this wide.
But there is one budget allocation to the Nkandlaneering project that does not make sense. I am referring here to the "donation" of R800m from the aptly named Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry to an Nkandla-related project.
Until I hear something convincing and sensible coming out of the mouth of the minister or the spokesperson, the allocation of public funds in this fashion is fishy, stinks to high heaven and reeks of the putrid pong of patronage.
Talking about things smelly, why, as the allegations go, are some businesspeople prepared to donate R1bn to Nkandla-related developmental projects? Is it because this is the only way they can gain admission to the elite ranks of those who engage in gravy wrestling and butter skating?
By the way, some of them resign or are fired from the club and then, in anger and dismay, spit butter and gravy in the face of the president from poverty-stricken London.
Nkandla-sneering aside, there are questions about Nkandlaneering that must make their entry into the debate. If, God forbid, I were to be elected president of the ANC (everybody, especially a certain prince from KwaZulu-Natal, knows I am an ANC plant), would this mean that my government should not develop Phefeni, Orlando West, where I grew up?
Or, are people raising a different question? Is it not possible that, for the people of Nkumba and Emangwaneni in KwaZulu-Natal, Nkandlaneering is about the pace and scope of delivery? In other words, they recognise that development is not limited to Nkandla but may be concerned that disproportionate amounts of money are being allocated to that area when they could be spent equitably on different areas. Having said that, and here comes a bit of fudge, something the residents of Nkandla have probably never eaten, Nkandla being one of the poorest areas in South Africa. If we must punish anyone for patronage, we must make sure that it is not the poor of Nkandla. It is the culprits who must suffer.
Matshiqi is a research fellow at the Helen Suzman Foundation.