The Refugees Amendment Act was signed into law by President Jacob Zuma. File Photo: Sumaya Hisham

Parliament - The tradition of simply agreeing to the president’s annual salary increase was discarded for the first time in 21 years on Thursday when opposition MPs rejected a motion to this effect over the Nkandla saga.

Instead, Freedom Front Plus chief whip Corne Mulder moved a counter motion that President Jacob Zuma’s salary should be reduced to R1 in a clear message over the R215 million Nkandla security upgrades.

“The mere fact that we have such an opposition should indicate to us we have a problem… Ordinary people out there – every day they get up and struggle and earn a salary and pay their taxes – are not happy,” Mulder said earlier.

The Independent Commission for the Remuneration of Public Office Bearers annually determines salary increases for the president, his cabinet ministers, premiers, judges, mayors, councillors and traditional leaders.

While the president signs off on everyone’s salary hike, he relies on the National Assembly to approve his own.

The commission recommended a five percent increase to R2 753 889 from April 2014, up from R2.62m the previous year.

On Thursday, DA leader Mmusi Maimane said Zuma already received a “100 year advance” on his salary, given the security upgrades, as South Africa’s economic growth remained lacklustre.

EFF chief whip Floyd Shivambu said South Africans were already paying for everything for the president: “We even build a cattle kraal for him.” This came as public servants, who had asked for a 10 percent increase, continue “to struggle to afford daily life”.

Cope MP Willie Madisha echoed such sentiments: “Please let us not agree with this unless we want to destroy the country,” he said after African Christian Democratic Party MP Cheryllyn Dudley said “the mood in the country” did not allow the party to support the presidential salary hike.

ANC chief whip Stone Sizani said what he had put before the House was a recommendation by the commission headed by a judge. “On our side, we don’t believe someone is guilty before being sentenced. Even criminals, who killed, get housed and fed by us before conviction,” he said.

Given the ANC numbers in the House, Mulder’s R1 presidential salary motion was defeated 201 against, 89 in favour and two abstentions. And, after another vote, Zuma got his salary increase when the original motion was carried 203 in favour and 88 against.

Afterwards the ANC in Parliament welcomed the vote, dismissing opposition to the salary increase as “cheap opportunism and rank hypocrisy”. “Since taking office in 2009 the president has been sensitive to our people’s social and economic conditions, opting on various occasions for salary increases below those recommended by the commission,” the ANC said.

“In 2013 when the president refused to accept any increase, the MPs of opposition parties, who today indulged in melodramatic posturing in opposition against the president’s recommended increase, were happy to pocket the increase instead of following his lead.”

Political Bureau