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It's a WaBenzi frenzy

Published Jun 12, 2009


By Alex Eliseev

Leather seats: R41 000; sunroof: R13 600; 21-inch alloy wheels: R16 900; and Bose sound system: R5 600. Total cost of extras: R206 230. Being the politician with the coolest ride: priceless.

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After the April elections, elected leaders across South Africa are rushing out to buy the most luxurious cars the rule book allows.

Ministers, premiers and MECs have been dubbed the "kings and queens of bling", who - as The Star's investigation shows - have spent tens of millions of rands on the latest Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi or Land Rover.

WaBenzi is a colloquial term used to describe a government official's expensive vehicle of choice (usually a Mercedes-Benz).

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In Limpopo, one of the country's poorest provinces, Premier Cassel Mathale has just bought an "imperial blue" BMW 750i worth R1 055 050. His MEC for Public Works, Pandelani Ramagoma, opted for a R800 000 Land Rover, on which the tax alone is close on R100 000. Pitsi Moloto, the MEC for economic development, environment and tourism, bought an Audi Q7 worth R560 000, which - with the help of some extras - landed up costing taxpayers almost R900 000.

Moloto's Audi 4x4 was bought with 19 extra features, which boosted the price to R875 333.

The extras include: air suspension; an electrical folding towbar (worth R8 200); privacy glass; tyre pressure monitoring; a parking system; cruise control; DVD-based navigation; S line exterior package (worth almost R20 000); a cellphone kit; special headlights; and voice recognition. The "Phantom black" paint job cost an extra R2 600.

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All the departments refused to be drawn into the ethical debate of whether the purchases amounted to a waste of taxpayer money.

"The cars have been bought for politicians who are leaders of government in line with policy," Limpopo provincial spokesperson Mogale Nchabeleng said.

Pushed on the ethics, he said that was a debate right across government. Combined, the three cars cost R2,7-million.

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In Gauteng, former MEC for agriculture and rural development Nomantu Nkomo-Ralehoko spent R920 000 on a second-hand Mercedes-Benz. The vehicle was hijacked a day after it left the showroom floor.

One national ministry is busy buying a R900 000 Mercedes-Benz S350, with a possibility of a second being bought. Another ministry is spending R600 000 on a top-of-the-range Lexus.

In Mpumalanga, one department has just spent R700 000 on an E350 Merc and more than R350 000 on a Toyota 4x4.

In the Northern Cape, an MEC is gearing up to drive a Mercedes-Benz ML500 worth R550 000 and the Free State is acquiring about 10 official cars allegedly worth about R10-million.

DA chief whip Ian Davidson has lashed out at the car frenzy. "They are the kings and queens of bling, amassing as much as possible in terms of their allowances to pump their egos at the expense of others."

According to the 2009/10 figures, government allocates an average of R55 000 to build one RDP house (with an additional R20 000 going towards servicing of land). The extras on Moloto's Audi alone could have built three homes.

The Ministerial Handbook says MECs and Premiers are allowed to buy an official car not exceeding 70% of their annual salary package. They can purchase a new car once an existing one has been driven for 120 000km or five years.

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