43-year-old Mabuyi Zuma is President Jacob Zuma’s niece. Mabuyi’s father Khanya is Zuma’s younger brother.
Mabuyi lives in a thatched rondavel situated on the flanks of President Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla homestead. On Tuesday afternoon, tragedy struck in Nkandla and left her rondavel, situated next to her uncle Michael Zuma’s rondavels in flames.
Recounting her ordeal, Mabuyi said her rondavel, which is located a few distance away from President Zuma’s homestead in the KwaNxamalala village went up in flames after it was struck by lightning at 16:30 during a severe thunderstorm.
She recalled how she tried to save her rondavel from complete destruction but couldn’t because she was all alone at the moment. Remembering how her safety matters, Mabuyi at last, gave up saving the traditional dwelling after the full bucket of water she threw towards the fire made no impact.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, she said the only item she managed to escape with was her cell phone. She lamented that even her Grade 5 pupil went to school without her uniform because it was also lost in the incident.
“Everything was destroyed. I lost everything; I only took my cellphone because it was the closest thing to me. I am sad that the house burnt down,” a tearful Mabuyi said.
Bongokwakhe Mbambo, ward 14 councillor, confirmed that a huge thunderstorm had hit Nkandla on Tuesday afternoon. He explained that the burnt rondavel stood outside President Zuma’s homestead fence.
Mbambo said: “[The house]… is part of the Zuma family homes around the president’s homestead. It looks exactly like some of the rondavels inside the president’s homestead but it is situated outside the homestead [fence]. You pass the homestead to get to it.
“Everything was destroyed, they lost everything but luckily, no one was injured.”
King Cetshwayo District Municipality disaster management also confirmed the incident.
The department’s Sibongile Kunene said: “We received a report that the house caught fire after it was struck by lightning. We have sent someone to assess the damage.”
Meanwhile, when Michael Zuma – Zuma’s brother was contacted he answered: “I am not home and I have not been informed about the incident.”
Residents admitted that Nkandla often suffers lightening hits and that it usually leads to the destruction of many homes.
Nkandla is the private home of President Jacob Zuma. The homestead is situated about 24 km (15 mi) south of the rural town of Nkandla in KwaZulu-Natal.
Nkandla is almost synonymous with President Zuma, owing to the controversy that clouded the costly upgrade of the building – which for security reasons cost over R246 million. The works department was said to have built a helipad, underground bunkers, security, a fire pool, a chicken-run, and fencing around the entire complex.
A month after Zuma’s inauguration on 9 May 2009, a security assessment was carried out at his private residence in Nkandla while construction started on 29 August 2009.
Following complaints lodged between 2011 and 2012, former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela released a final report on security upgrades to the compound. She titled the report “Secure in comfort” and published it on 19 March 2014.
Last year, President Zuma finally apologised for using public funds to upgrade his private residence but refused to step down due to the scandal, as pleaded by prominent ANC leaders and a majority of his critics.