When a country has a president that cares for the development of his people in all ramifications, it is only natural for the people to equally want to care for the well-being of such a ruler, hence the room for spousal benefits to anyone who is attached to the president in terms of wife and kids. Usually, a country would gladly support its first lady and cater to her every need without complaint. But when one country has one President and 4 first ladies and counting, it seems only natural for tax payers to begin to feel the fatigue of having to support the four of them from the spousal arrangements that was originally meant for one. It is a given that for each tenure and for each president, adjustment could always be arranged to suit the needs of the present occupants of the prestigious position, but then some adjustment only succeed in tearing a link that already had cracks.
On The average, the 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. However, In Zuma’s first term, the average rose to R10.9-million a year, accounting for an increase of over R3.8-million. To add this up for the years of his first tenure, you will realize that It cost South Africa over R54.6-million to support the country’s first ladies during President Jacob Zuma’s first term in office.
When the figures came up, questions followed as to why the unit should operate thus. In response to some of the questions, the spokesman for the president, Mac Maharaj, said the unit cost about 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.
Now from all sources of information, the last time information was made publicly available on the activities of the Spousal Support unit was in February 2010 when the Presidency revealed in response to a parliamentary question that during Zuma’s first year in office, which was between 2009 and 2010, the unit cost R15.517-million.
From research made into the full functions and abilities of the unit and 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”.
In a statement, the President’s spokesperson Maharaj said: “There appears to be a belief in the media that the 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.
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The unit also provides services to Dr Tshepo Motsepe, wife of Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa. For now, there are four officially recognized and they include:
- Bongi Ngema,
- Sizakele Khumalo-Zuma,
- Nompumelelo Ntuli-Zuma and
After the last time information about the unit was made public in 2010, 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.
However, the reports did previously carry a report on the work undertaken by the first ladies over the course of the financial year. These reports used to be detailed and well written to clarify the activities of the unit and the amount it has spent on what project, especially during the time of first lady Zanele Mbeki. But towards the end of Mbeki’s tenure, such reports stopped being detailed and eventually stopped.
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The Presidential spokesman made it clear that the first ladies carry out community based projects that interest them in any area that will promote the community he gave an example that the first lady 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.
In the light of the increase in the number of first ladies under Zuma, the Democratic Alliance has called for “a special presidential handbook to introduce a strict regulatory framework for spending on the spousal office. This is believed will cut down the excesses of presidents so that even if they want to marry hundred wives, they will be responsible for every of their spending.