Approaching President Jacob Zuma’s Nxamalala village compound from the direction of Kranskop, the first thing that strikes the eye is not the Zulu rondavels for his bodyguards, but two Astroturf soccer pitches.
The pitches, emblazoned with KwaZulu-Natal sports and recreation department slogans exhorting youngsters to stay off the booze, look like nobody has ever hammered one into their goals.
The area around them is still partially raw red earth, a stark contrast to their pristine green surface and geometric white markings.
An internal fence divides the 20 or so security cottages, which are vacant for most of the year, from the family compound property.
Zuma’s massive security contingent only travels to Nkandla when he visits or goes home for the festive season.
It, like most of the traditional homesteads in that part of Zululand, is built with the houses circling the area that would traditionally be used as a cattle kraal.
In the Zumas’ case, the hub of the complex is an entertainment area which, City Press understands, is to be finished by the time Zuma goes home for Christmas.
Fanning out from the party zone are a series of houses for Zuma, his wives and children – some of which are linked by underground tunnels.
Then follows the family’s private clinic, the on-site fire department, and more accommodation for minders and staff quarters.
Internal fences separate each zone.
Above the main house is the double helipad, used by the president and his more affluent visitors, which is not visible from the road.
Outside the main perimeter fence, but still fenced off from the public, is a large vegetable garden, below it a cleared field.
Across the perimeter fence, which is covered in security cameras linked to an on-site control centre, is a separate collection of blue-grey painted houses, where Zuma’s flamboyant taxi driver-turned-millionaire nephew, Khulubuse, lives.
The family compound was a relatively modest collection of thatched houses when Zuma became president in 2009.
It has since been upgraded to the tune of R238 million by the public works department, while Zuma is expected to cover R10.6 million of the cost.
Built on land owned by the Ingonyama Trust and leased by Public Works on Zuma’s behalf, it was declared a national key point in April 2010 by Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa, along with nine other buildings used by Zuma and former presidents.
When City Press visited the compound this week, workers were putting the finishing touches to the road linking the front gate with the main road between Nkandla and Kranskop, and the entertainment area.
There’s a minimal security presence, with only the small police contingent responsible for guarding the homestead and Zuma’s first wife, Sizakele, on the premises.
Local residents are generally happy about Zuma’s presence in the community, particularly since he became president.
“Since he became president there has been development here,” says a tuck shop owner who asked not to be named.
“The roads are better. The electricity and water supply are better.
There are government services that we didn’t have before that are here right now.
The schools have improved.
“Even him building this (the Nkandla homestead) has given some local people jobs.
“When the new smart centre is built, there are going to be jobs. We’d be stupid not to want him here,” he says.
But there are some signs of resentment emerging about the expenditure on the Nxamalala complex.
On the road to the nearby Magwaza tribal area, residents are battling with massive soil erosion and the proliferation of kikuyu grass, which their
cattle cannot eat.
A resident of the area says: “It would have been nice if Public Works took a little bit of that R203 million and used it to buy tree seedlings.
People here know how to fight dongas, but don’t have the money to buy trees to plant.
“If government bought them, we would plant them without being paid.
“This kikuyu is useless to us for our cattle. Government could have spent some money on bringing a tractor to turn the soil and kill the roots so
we could have grass that the cattle could eat. That would be nice.”