by Pamela Maringa

“The frustration of feeling powerless, of feeling that there is nothing we can do about what happens in the government really upsets many of us. We feel like we just follow whatever is being given to us, it doesn’t matter whether we agree or not.”

A few days ago a R1, 8 million monument was unveiled in the Groot Marico Heritage Site in North West Province of South Africa in honour of President Jacob Zuma. This heritage site tells the story of Zuma and 45 Mkhonto weSizwe (MK) recruits. They left Johannesburg on 9 June 1963, intending to cross the Zeerust-Lobatse border into Botswana. The young recruits, on their way to military training, were travelling in four different minibuses when they were stopped by police. They were arrested and detained at the Groot Marico Police Station. They were sentenced to 10 years imprisonment in the Robben Island Prison, where they endured inhuman and harsh treatment. Zuma was released in 1973. (SAnews.gov.za)

Because of the historical events in the area, President Zuma officially launched the Groot Marico Heritage side and Liberation Route. The area will serve as a tourist attraction. It has been designed in two phases. The first phase is a fireball monument surrounded by 8 walls each telling the stories of Zuma’s life. The second phase is a house which will be used for meetings and will also have craft and art centre.

In his speech Zuma mentioned that the heritage site has the potential to stimulate the economic growth of the country. He also said it will contribute towards tourism, both locally and internationally. My concern is that people have seen and heard the news – from the Nkandla saga all the way to state capture. With all the rotten decisions Zuma has made, who would want to go to the heritage site and see his face? I know I wouldn’t.

We living in a country where there is a high rate of unemployment, poverty and very slow service delivery. One of the reasons I think this monument is a bad idea, is because not far from the huge and shiny monument, the people of Groot Marico continue to live without clean running water, sanitation and proper roads. Many people would agree with me when I say building this monument was a waste of taxpayer’s money. This money could have been used to improve the lives of many South Africans, especially youth. Investing in young people, the future, would have been a much better way of honouring those soldiers and what they intended fighting for.

I come from a place that’s exactly like Groot Marico. People are struck by the reality of poverty. People are still living in shacks, children have to walk for hours to their nearest school and youth are abusing drugs and turning to crime. Yet, the South African government builds a monument to Zuma.

When I look at this giant structure I see how the government has failed me as a young person living in a township. I feel like I have been punched in the nose. Even if one house was built for the poor or one child taken to school, the money would have done something, it would have made a difference.

The history behind the monument remains important to South Africans as it represents where we come from as a country. I truly believe that this history should be kept for generations to come, but the reality is that, the monument will forever be tainted by Jacob Zuma’s legacy of corruption. The monument will be a constant reminder of his bad leadership.

The #ZumaMonument exploded on social media as people shared their anger at the construction and unveiling of the monument. Even the Democratic Alliance (DA) has called the monument a slap in the face of the people who are living in poverty.

Others have called the monument an “Official Corruption Trophy” for the president. Many said Zuma honoured himself while he is still alive because he knows that no one will honour him when he is dead.

The frustration of feeling powerless, of feeling that there is nothing we can do about what happens in the government really upsets many of us. We feel like we just follow whatever is being given to us, it doesn’t matter whether we agree or not. Zuma and his cronies forget that the whole idea of democracy is that we can have a say in the government. As a taxpayer, I ask, isn’t there anything we can do to make the government accountable for our money? Is there a way that the public can be made aware of what the government plans to do so we can possibly challenge some of their plans? I know that we don’t need an expensive Zuma structure.

I would also like to challenge Zuma to take leave as president and come and spend at least a week in the townships as an ordinary citizen. I would like him to experience life living without basic needs. To leave his warm mansion for a shack, no sanitation and no running water. This experience might humble him. And next time he thinks of using taxpayer’s money for unnecessary things, he might think again. He seems to have forgotten what it’s like to live in poverty.

As a taxpayer I plead with the government to use our tax money more wisely. We work hard for our money, and out of the little that we are earning, the government takes it and spends it recklessly. This is inhumane. South Africa has a lot of important things that calls for wise use of taxpayer’s money. The Zuma monument is not one them.

President Zuma did not deserve a monument in his honour.