It cost South Africa R54.6-million to support the country’s first ladies during President Jacob Zuma’s first term in office.
The average annual cost of the Presidential Spousal Support Unit for the last four years of former president Thabo Mbeki’s administration, from 2005 to 2008, was R7.1-million.
In Zuma’s first term, the average rose to R10.9-million a year – an increase of R3.8-million.
In response to questions, the spokesman for the president, Mac Maharaj, said the unit cost R7.877-million in 2010-11; R11.165-million in 2011-12; R7.068-million in 2012-13 and R13.019-million in 2013-14.
The last time information was made publicly available on the unit was in February 2010 when the Presidency revealed in response to a parliamentary question that during Zuma’s first year in office, 2009 to 2010, the unit cost R15.517-million.
According to the Presidency’s website, the spousal office falls under the president’s private office and is designed to support “the spouses of the president and deputy president in their partnership role in presidential, ceremonial, state and executive functions and in all other duties and responsibilities related to their positions as spouses”.
Maharaj said: “There appears to be a belief in the media that government pays for the maintenance of the spouses of the president. This is grossly incorrect. The spouses pay their own living or household expenses, be it food, mortgages, lights, water and so forth.
“Nothing is paid for by the state in the four households of the spouses.”
The specifics of the costs that are covered by the state, according to the Presidency, include:
* Personal support staff (a private secretary and researcher);
* Domestic and international air travel and accommodation for official visits approved by the president;
* Cellular phones for spouses and their secretaries;
* IT equipment such as laptops and printers; and
* A special daily allowance for incidental expenses during official journeys.
There are four officially recognised first ladies at the moment: Bongi Ngema, Sizakele Khumalo-Zuma, Nompumelelo Ntuli-Zuma and Tobeka Madiba-Zuma.
The unit also provides services to Dr Tshepo Motsepe, wife of Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Annual reports for the Presidency have historically been guarded about the amount spent on the unit and no information of any sort on the cost of the unit has been available since 2010.
The reports did, however, previously carry a report on the work undertaken by the first ladies over the course of the financial year.
The Presidency’s 2006 annual report carried three pages of feedback on the work undertaken by then first lady Zanele Mbeki.
Such information stopped being reported on towards the end of Mbeki’s tenure.
Maharaj said: “The spouses undertake some community work on a voluntary basis based on their areas of interest.
“For example, Mrs Nompumelelo Zuma focuses on social development issues such as orphans and vulnerable children, Mrs Tobeka Zuma focuses on health especially breast cancer awareness, Mrs Bongi Ngema on health, especially diabetes and Mrs Sizakele Zuma focuses on food security and agriculture.”
The cost of state support for the unit has drawn much political outrage. The Democratic Alliance has called for “a special presidential handbook to introduce a strict regulatory framework for spending on the spousal office” in light of the increases under Zuma.
The Economic Freedom Fighters included the unit in its 2014 election manifesto, saying that an EFF government would “remove all presidential spousal support”. – TimesLIVE