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Politicians behaving badly, part 132: Why pay for free electricity and water while millions get hungrier, colder and darker?

Politicians behaving badly, part 132: Why pay for free electricity and water while millions get hungrier, colder and darker?
(Photos: Unsplash | EPA / Nic Bothma)

The confirmation by the government that Cabinet ministers and deputy ministers do not pay for the electricity and water consumed at their private residences appears to once more underscore the difference in the lives between those in government and everyone else. While politicians’ existence in a bubble has been the norm for many years, a combination of constituencies that normally disagree with one another may now put the SA government under more pressure than ever before.

As the sheer desperation to survive that many feel as the pandemic subsides, the lives of Cabinet ministers have not changed that much.

That infuriating fact makes it virtually impossible for the government to defend both this practice, especially when ministers, the deputy president and the President are all demanding that citizens pay for what they consume, and why so many political leaders are telling people to do as they say, not as they do.

Last week DA MP Leon Schreiber said in public that changes to the Ministerial Handbook meant that ministers and deputy ministers would not have to pay for the electricity and water consumed on their properties. He also claimed that these properties were not affected by load shedding.

On Monday evening the government issued a statement in which it attempted to clarify the position. In short, it said that the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure paid for the electricity and water consumed at the official residences of ministers and deputy ministers, but that ministers and deputy ministers had to pay for the electricity and water consumed at their private properties.

It also denied that these residences were exempt from load shedding.

Perks for the powerful

However, the real amount paid for those in these positions is much higher than a simple lights and water bill.

First, a Cabinet minister earns R2,473,682 a year. A deputy minister earns R2,037,129.

Then there are the homes, the official residences. Each of these people will have one in Cape Town and one in Tshwane.

The cost of this is difficult to calculate, but will come from the budget of the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure.

Then there is another big cost — security.

The budget for what is called “VIP Security” comes to R3.122-billion for this financial year. And it is true that for several years the VIP security budget has been higher than the budget given to land reform.

But not all of that is spent on Cabinet ministers and deputy ministers. Some will go to the President, the deputy president and others in government. And some will go to others who also have the benefit of a security detail, such as EFF leader Julius Malema.

A rough calculation, based on a Cabinet of 28 ministers and 28 deputy ministers suggests that there is a total salary bill of R126,622,708 a year.

This is before the cost of security, the two residences, and then the relatively small detail which has started this furore, the payment of lights and water bills.


However, the provision of electricity goes further than that. Because while it is true that their official residences are not exempt from load shedding, the government has confirmed in the recent past that it has paid for generators for these homes.

The symbolic power of this is massive. And perhaps bigger than it has ever been before.

Mainly because of the statements by the politicians involved.

Just in July this year, during his announcement about energy reforms, President Cyril Ramaphosa told the nation that “We must pay for services and prevent illegal connections.”

Deputy President David Mabuza has said repeatedly that people must pay for the services they consume. In 2019 he said, “It’s a good culture that we must teach ourselves: pay for services that you have consumed”.

In the meantime, while Ramaphosa, Mabuza, and others are lecturing the nation about paying for their services, the nation is often not receiving services at all.

The intense rolling blackouts suffered during this past winter imposed misery on many millions of people. But it is clear that this did not apply to Cabinet ministers and deputy ministers. And to Ramaphosa and Mabuza.

Meanwhile, it is absolutely certain that it did apply to some of those who have taken an oath to protect our borders. Earlier this year, the Sunday Times reported how soldiers at the Murrayhill military base in Tshwane have to queue outside to wash themselves from an outside Jojo tank. There is also a shortage of electricity in the area because of cable theft.

Again, not a problem for Cabinet ministers and deputy ministers.

Hungrier, colder, darker

At the same time, the lived experience of so many millions of people in our country is getting hungrier, colder and darker.

There is much evidence to show that many are battling just to survive. Anyone who has heard of the difficulties people experience just to get the R350 monthly social relief of distress grant will understand just how desperate people are.

And that is just to live on R350 a month.

While this issue has immense political power, this is not the first time there have been questions about the amount of government money spent on Cabinet ministers and deputy ministers. 

In 2009, as Jacob Zuma was taking over as president, it emerged that each of his new Cabinet ministers was receiving not one, but two new luxury cars. Again, there was one in Tshwane and one in Cape Town. While there was outrage at the time, nothing changed.

There have been other, sometimes almost regular, scandals with the same theme. Time and time again there have been questions about the salaries paid to mayors, or city managers, or how those running tiny rural municipalities have been given luxury SUVs to traverse the roads made impassable by their governance.

But even R250-million spent on Zuma’s Nkandla residence, while outrageous, was not enough to force change.

Changed landscape

This time may be different, this issue may in fact have more power than before, partly because the ANC is politically weaker than at any time since 1994.

There also appear to be greater demands for accountability — the era in which citizens simply accept the words of politicians feels very much over. People now demand action.

But it may also be because, as Cosatu’s Sizwe Pamla pointed out this week, the lives Cabinet ministers and deputy ministers lead has insulated them from the problems ordinary people face. And thus they are almost surprised when people are so angry at their lived experience.

Put simply, if you have no idea what rolling blackouts are like, there’s less urgency to fix the problem.

But there may also be another dynamic about the era we in live now.

Visit Daily Maverick’s home page for more news, analysis and investigations

As the analyst Angelo Fick pointed out on Newzroom Afrika on Wednesday afternoon, many voters now do not have a strong memory of living through the apartheid era. For them, the promises and achievements of the liberation movement from that era mean much less than they do to those who do have those strong memories.

Rather, they blame their current situation on those who are in power now. To put it more directly, they blame the ANC for poor governance, and hold it responsible for the state of our society now.

This may also explain how this story, which started with the DA, has angered Cosatu to such a great extent. These organisations represent very different constituencies, and yet these constituencies are united in their revolt.

Despite all of this, it is still not known if the government is listening, that anyone within the ANC’s bubble really understands why people are so angry and how deep is the resentment. It is difficult to hear the people’s cries from ivory towers.

This entire issue may become more powerful ahead of the 2024 elections. In the past, many ANC politicians could show that they could almost feel and understand the pain of voters. They would even dress in tracksuits for the party conferences.

That charade appears to be impossible to perform anymore — they have simply become too distant from their own nation. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Jacobus Van der Vlies says:

    History repeats itself. What caused the French revolution?

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    Keep raising these issues DA!

    I live in hope that one day our voter base will understand that people are people and that ethics trumps colour by a country mile.

  • Carsten Rasch says:

    If they did their jobs, it might still be palatable, but there is hardly a person in that damned cabinet that knows what s/he is doing, never mind actually doing it. As in Bush-speak – there are those who knowingly do their jobs; there are others who unknowingly do their jobs, and finally, those who knowingly undo their jobs. The cabinet falls mainly in the last category.

  • Dennis Bailey says:

    Clarity on water and electricity makes the sham of intended austerity even more apparent. SA politicians, all of them (without exception), are shameless. What they have done is despicably corrupt, and what they haven’t done is criminal negligence. But, if we vote tomorrow, we’ll elect the same arsewipes again without a doubt!

  • Patrick O'Shea says:

    George Orwell must be chuckling.

    • Lesley Young says:

      Haha : All people are equal but ANC elite are more equal than others. Those who don’t understand this must read Orwell’s “Animal Farm “.

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    All of this “free” stuff paid for by the long suffering tax payer…including the poorest of the poor ( in the form of VAT). One can now see why the EFF is making such headway with the less educated voter….the homeless should be parking themselves outside the homes of ministers instead of on ratepayers turf! That way they can still get services that tax and ratepayers pay for but don’t get!

  • Laurence Erasmus says:

    Unbridled arrogance, entitlement and looting by the ANC elites is coming home to roost!

  • Jeremy Stephenson says:

    It’s not too late for decent senior members of the ANC, if there are any, to loudly denounce this criminal organisation before finding themselves on the wrong side of history. The first one with the courage to do so may well cause an avalanche.

    • Garth Kruger says:

      Jeremy I seriously cannot think of one person except maybe Motlanthe. For the rest they are without exception an embarrassment to our country and our people. Completely shameless and incompetent.

  • virginia crawford says:

    Great material for posters for the next election. These facts should be on stickers, posters and social media all over the place so that every voter sees it repeatedly. Publicize their salaries, pictures of their cars juxtaposed with their constituents’ electricity bills etc. The French used the guillotine, and despite the attraction, let’s motivate people to use the ballot box

  • André Pelser says:

    Patronage and factional politics in play!

  • Hermann Funk says:

    These leeches are so far removed from real life that they will NEVER become effective. The whole useless lot should be chased into the sea.

  • Gregory Michael Van Der Krol says:

    These Politicians are the new Bourgeoisie and the public are starting to detest and despise them. Their day will come. Looking at what they earn, they are the wealthy class and when they talk about the Rich they are referring to themselves. I despise paying taxes that get wasted on these useless Politicians. I gladly pay taxes to uplift the poor but our hard earned money is being wasted on this lot.

  • Alan Salmon says:

    Unfortunately this article will never be read by the ordinary ANC voter !

    • virginia crawford says:

      They shouldn’t have to: these kind of facts should be on posters, social media, bumper stickers, ads on the back of public toilet doors, dish cloths! Nobody should be able to ignore these facts. Opposition parties and civil society need to think out of the box on reaching people.

  • Ruby Delahunt says:

    I must say, there is something exciting about a story as blatantly awful as this. More stories like this might motivate voters to open their eyes and see the root of the issue is with all politicians and all aspects of government, and that it is time for discontent to be expressed in a more serious way.

  • Anne Chappel says:

    These ministers live in different world. No wonder they hang on to their jobs even when shown to be incompetent or corrupt… Shameful.

  • Fox Bravo.. says:

    I want to know are they paying fringe benefit tax on these benefits. If not SARS please investigate….

  • Neil Stratton says:

    I very much hope that someone from the opposition benches asks for these costs to be disclosed. I’m keen to know how much it costs them to run their air-cons and underfloor heating – in two houses at the same time!

  • Atish Kara says:

    NOTHING angers me more than this f*ckery. Surely waiting for the another 2 years for an election is wholly inadequate against this sort of injustice, some would say violence, against the citizenry.

  • Malcolm McManus says:

    I can understand a high security bill. I imagine them all in the cross hairs of a long range high caliber sniper rifle, after pulling the trigger, all the time. I am sure this is a populist fantasy, although I wish it was more real.
    What really gets me is that they are pretty much immune to load shedding. To me they are worth less than single ply that wipes the backsides of their millions of supporters, after it has been discarded in pit latrines.

  • Gillian Dusterwald says:

    If they don’t start securing the supply of electricity and water for all citizens, they too will be left thirsty and in the dark. Although then I guess the taxpayer will be left to foot the bill for solar panels and water tanks for the cabinet ministers too. How much water and electricty do these people consume to pay R5000 plus a month? No wonder there’s nothing left for those of us who are paying for them!

  • Jimbo Smith says:

    What about 88 free flights per annum? Is there a Govt on this planet that goes to the extent of these outrageous “privileges” whilst proclaiming insanely about caring for “our people”? Nauseating!

  • Trevor Stacey says:

    This government is really in a bubble. Bloated and ineffective and dont forget we have local government to pay for.
    Why don’t politicians have to be licensed? Doctors, lawyers, electricians and estate agents to name a few, have to be qualified and have a license? Politicians with their stupidy can hurt far more than one person and yet politicians are generally totally unqualified for a job and inexperienced?
    Guess who makes the rules and this is the first thing I would change.

  • Derek Mitchell says:

    The introductory sentence in the article is most misleading. They DO pay for electricity and water at their ‘private residences’ but not at their Ministerial residences.
    Please be more careful.

  • Johann Olivier says:

    There can be little doubt that the ‘leaders’ live in luxurious ivory towers and have taken their separate and extreme benefits to new heights. However, let’s not forget who set the standard and example to be followed. The former Nationalist government was not known for scrimping and lived lives out of reach for most white South Africans. An interesting historical factoid: notwithstanding the extreme concern and disapproval of John X Merriman (concerned about affordability), an early premier of the Cape Colony, the very first act of the Botha government, at Union, in 1910 was to vote themselves an annual salary of 3000 pounds.

  • Nigel Ipp says:

    Thank you Mr Grootes for your as always incisive insight. What a travesty these ‘representatives of the people’ have imposed on South Africa.

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