WHILE President Jacob Zuma was down in Cape Town answering questions in the National Assembly this week, we arrived in the now IFP-run municipality of Nkaaaaaaaaaandla.
I am guessing Number One and his entourage take the smoother N2 from the south to get here, but we have taken the backroads from Dundee.
These are mostly gravel – at least until you reach the area that has been put on the global map by the nearly R200million upgrades to his private homestead – when they suddenly and magically turn into brand-new asphalt.
As we approach the busy hamlet of Nkandla from the north, we catch no sight of the multiple thatch-roofed buildings that form the famous complex.
We carry on through thick mist, over the hills of central KwaZulu-Natal, past the Nkandla forest reserve and past shepherds herding cattle (at times in the middle of the road). Still nothing. After several kilometres, we wonder if we have somehow missed it because of the fog.
We start inquiring with pedestrians who encourage us to carry on ahead.
The third passer-by tells us to turn right towards Kranskop and, suddenly, we stare straight ahead at the much talked-about presidential residence.
I have seen several shots of it in the past, but seeing it for myself now, it looks even grander than I had imagined: like those fancy private game farms, without the game of course.
What I had always been interested in, since the Nkandla saga broke, is the tuck shop built for First Lady Sizakele Khumalo, or MaKhumalo.
I walk to the entrance of the tuck shop, situated right at the fortified complex’s gates.
There is no security hovering around, probably because the President is in Cape Town.
There is no sign of MaKhumalo either; just three young women engrossed in conversation who seem half irritated that I have come to buy something.
It is difficult to see what is for sale through the tinted glass and small opening: maize meal, Sunlight liquid, Grandpa’s… The usual basic necessities.
I look around frantically thinking what I could ask for and then spot a packet of biscuits in the far left hand corner. Perfect.
The lady helping then asks: “what else?” Hmmm… what else? There is a fridge, but not the usual glass display kind, so she has to go to the fridge to see which cool drinks they have in stock.
I settle for a can of Coke and one of Fanta. It amounts to R40. Not exactly cheap. Maybe it IS an income for MaKhumalo after all.
Or perhaps a means to help pay off the R7.8m bond the President has just taken out?
As I walk away, another CA-registered car is taking photos outside the gates while a neatly-dressed schoolboy makes his way to the tuck shop, smiling at the selfie with the biscuits I have just taken.
The cost of the tuck shop aside, there is something quirky about a community getting that close to a private, albeit presidential, home.
It was not quite tea at Nkandla, but definitely the Eet-Sum-Mor biscuits to go along with it. South Africa certainly is unique.
Leanne de Bassompierre is a former Eyewitness News editor and Cape Talk news anchor currently on a 10-month trip through the BRICS countries with her husband and their two kids.