Oh government, won’t you buy me a Mercedes-Benz

2015-03-22 16:08
(City Press)

(City Press)

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Johannesburg - Spousal benefits, Mercedes-Benz SUVs and fully furnished houses with washing machines and dishwashers.

This is just a fraction of what South Africa’s traditional leaders want from government, City Press reports.

They also want the same medical aid and pension benefits as members of Parliament and a review of their salary because of the invaluable service they insist they perform.

The National House of Traditional Leaders tabled its demands for additional perks at the Commission for the Remuneration of Public Office Bearers last week.

Earlier, the chiefs pleaded with President Jacob Zuma to ensure government provided them with “tools of trade” during a debate in the National House of Traditional Leaders.

President Zuma told the National Assembly earlier this month that the matter of traditional leaders’ tools of trade would get careful consideration.

“Certainly, it is a very progressive request because they have to work and participate,” he said.

South Africa has 10 kings, 829 senior traditional leaders and 5 311 chiefs, according to previous reports. They cost the taxpayer over R650m in 2013, the newspaper reported.

The deputy chairperson of the House of Traditional Leaders, Inkosi Sipho Mahlangu, told City Press last week that the commission had approved some of their demands (such as luxury SUVs and furnished houses for kings and other presiding officers like the chair of the National House of Traditional Leaders and his deputy), but some provinces were failing to implement the recommendations.

Mpumalanga has started to provide housing for kings - a response to the proposal for the provision of palaces - while others have appointed contractors and architects to renovate and rebuild traditional council offices.

Mahlangu confirmed the two kings in Mpumalanga and the kings in the Eastern Cape were provided with Mercedes-Benz ML 350 vehicles.

“A vehicle has to be provided for a king, and we are saying because they live in rural areas, an SUV has to be provided,” he said.

Mahlangu said traditional leaders were, however, unhappy that the Ministers and Members of Executive Councils Meeting had decided they should fall under the Government Employees’ Medical Scheme (Gems), and “yet we are not government employees, we are public office bearers”.

He insisted Gems was not suitable for public office bearers.

'Dribs and drabs'

“The traditional leaders that took that medical aid scheme have cancelled because a person has to pay up to R4 000 for a medical aid, and you can imagine that R4 000 comes from a salary of R11 000. So we’ve gone back to say, this is not tailor-made for public office bearers.

“Why doesn’t government give us what is tailor-made for public office bearers?

“What was approved were the minimum standards and now we are saying to the commission there were other items that were not looked into.”

He said traditional leaders felt that even though government supported them, it was not wholehearted support.

“It’s in dribs and drabs.”

Mahlangu said all they wanted was to be treated as public office bearers who were performing a service for their communities.

“We are not asking for more than a mayor is getting, or what the president is getting. We are asking for a basic necessity. You are expected to work for the community, you can’t be using your own vehicle to do that,” he said.

Asked how curtains, washing machines and dishwashers were considered tools of the trade, Mahlangu insisted they did not want those things for every traditional leader, but said: “If an MP is elected as a member of Parliament, that MP will be given a house which has got all those things. What we are asking is nothing more than what they have as MPs. It’s what you need to be able to do your work.”

Inkosi Phathisizwe Chiliza of eMadungeni in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, who is also the chairperson of the Provincial House of Traditional Leaders, defended the demands as reasonable.

“Chiefs are public office bearers and deserve to have benefits like members of the legislature and Parliament. We have not asked for something out of the ordinary but basic perks like medical aid, spousal benefits, pensions, cars, fully furnished houses and salary reviews,” he said.

Chiliza said chiefs wanted spousal benefits as chiefs did not get pension benefits.

“When a chief dies, the wives are often left in abject poverty. We need the assurance that our wives and children will be taken care of even when we are gone,” he said.

Chiliza said while they had listed state cars as benefits, they did not mention which brand. He is using a state car, a Toyota Fortuner, which he inherited from his predecessor.

But he said the car was not in a good condition. And: “Me and my deputy have state cars; the rest of the chiefs do not. They use their own cars to do the work of the state.”

The department of traditional affairs did not respond to requests for comment.

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