The Presidency moved swiftly to allay fears and criticism on Sunday that President Jacob Zuma’s forthcoming nuptials to his fourth wife would add to the burden on taxpayers, saying the fiscus did not maintain the president’s wives.
Presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj confirmed that Zuma – who is already married to Sizakele MaKhumalo Zuma, Nompumelelo MaNtuli Zuma and Thobeka Madiba – would marry his fiancée Bongi Ngema next weekend.
“The wedding will be a private family ceremony to take place in Nkandla. The private ceremony is to be paid for by the president. There is no government involvement or cost,” he said.
Maharaj dismissed fears that the addition of a fourth wife would mean a further increase to the spousal budget at the expense of taxpayers.
“The rules allow for partnerships to be recognised, and as Ngema already has secretarial support provided for by the Presidency, there will be no change in support arrangements.”
According to the Presidency, the budget for the presidential spousal support office was R15.5 million in the 2009/10 financial year.
This figure was almost double the cost to taxpayers compared with both Thabo Mbeki and Kgalema Mothlanthe’s terms in office, as the spousal support in 2007/08 and 2008/09 was R8.4m and R8m respectively.
The spousal support budget for the current financial year is not currently available.
Maharaj said it was “grossly incorrect” that taxpayers paid for the upkeep of Zuma’s wives.
“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. They live in private homes.” The wives did not have constitutionally defined roles or obligations, so they were not remunerated by the state.
“There are, however, expectations that spouses will provide support to the president in the execution of his duties, and specifically so at state and official functions. The Presidency therefore provides reasonable administrative, logistical and other support to the spouses to enable them to meet the expectations related to the nature of the office of the president.”
The director of the Institute for Accountability Paul Hoffman, said that while Zuma’s polygamist views should be respected and protected, it could not be at the expense of taxpayers.
“The president has far more wives than the average statesman, and this should not become the responsibility of the taxpayer. It would be fair if assistance is provided to his first wife, and thereafter private arrangements can be made by the president for his second, third and now fourth wives.”
DA spokesman Mmusi Maimane said a set budget should be allocated for the spousal office and any further expenditure incurred should be paid by Zuma.
“A budget should be allocated for the spousal office on how much is to be spent, and then if there are more expenses that should be for the president’s private expenses. Taxpayers should not have to be overburdened by the president’s lifestyle.”
Zuma earns R2.5 million a year.
According to a parliamentary reply to questions in 2010, the Presidency said support provided to the spousal office included:
* Personal support staff (secretary and researcher);
* Domestic air travel and accommodation, and international air travel and accommodation for official visits abroad approved by the president;
* Cellular phones for spouses and their secretaries;
* Equipment such as laptops and printers;
* A daily allowance for incidental expenses on official journeys.
While it is not specified by the Presidency, it is understood that the president’s wives are also entitled to medical aid and security. Zuma’s children are also provided for by the spousal office.
Those under 18 may use up to 60 single domestic economy class flights a year, and school-going children may be assisted with transport to school. Children who are students and under the age of 27 also qualify for domestic flights.
It could not be confirmed on Sunday what state benefits Zuma’s wives and children would receive when he was no longer president.