United States diplomats were scathing about South African government leaders who splashed out millions of rands on fancy cars while many South Africans lacked access to basic services, a 2009 cable released by WikiLeaks this week has revealed.
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The unclassified cable, titled “Government spends excessively on luxury cars”, states that the extravagance “highlights the double standards at play in government” and poses a threat to the credibility of the administration of President Jacob Zuma.
The Zuma government have been at the cutting edge of redefining state spending once the economic recession hit, the cable says, but had failed to do this.
“Despite winning an overwhelming majority in the April general election, [the government] is currently faced with a credibility problem. On the one hand it advocates serving the poor, while on the other it is allowing excessive spending of public money on personal luxuries.”
The cable adds that the ANC will find itself in a precarious position “should its legitimacy be weakened”.
Communist leader’s luxury
The report singles out purchases by Blade Nzimande, the higher education minister and South African Communist Party general secretary, as one of the ministers who have sparked a strident public backlash.
“Nzimande’s vehicle purchase has evoked the most criticism as it highlights the double standards at play in government,” it notes. The report points out that he had promoted the values of former president Nelson Mandela in wanting to “roll back the greed, corruption and selfishness of capitalism”.
“However, two months later he spent thousands on a new car — Politically, the ‘cargate’ scandal has the ability to weaken the Zuma government and increase protests, as a loss of credibility has the potential to create a climate for instability.”
The report suggests that, to restore public confidence, a marked improvement in service delivery and the eradication of entitlement and inefficiency is needed.
Rubbing salt in the wounds, the report underlines the austerity measures of Western Cape Premier Helen Zille and her government.
“Western Cape MECs have been told to use vehicles in the government garage car pool rather than purchase new ones. Zille is using an old vehicle and the official car she used as mayor of Cape Town, a hybrid Prius, is now being used by her successor.”
The report also notes Zille’s banning of “blue light” vehicle escorts for public officials and the cancellation of their corporate credit cards.