King Goodwill Zwelithini

Durban -

The Zulu royal household has splurged on seven new, luxury Mercedes-Benz E-Class sedans, costing an estimated R5 million, for King Goodwill Zwelithini’s six queens.

The seventh vehicle is understood to have been bought as a back-up vehicle.

The purchase comes at a time when finances are tight.

Individual earners are having to pay 1 percent more in taxes, while the national and provincial governments are cutting back on expenses.

For some years there has been some controversy about the way in which the king’s finances have been handled.

Some observers say the new cars will save money, while others say they are a luxury.

In 2014/15, the Royal Household Trust received R54.2m, but spent the money before the financial year ended. It asked for a R10 million bailout, and was granted R5m in February.

For this financial year, which began on April 1, the trust has been given R57.6m.

The Royal Household Trust and office of the KwaZulu-Natal premier have confirmed the purchases of the Mercedes-Benzes.

Thamsanqa Ngwenya, head of communications for the premier’s office, said the vehicles were not top of the range and had been acquired at a discounted rate.

“The initial range required was a Mercedes-Benz E350 and we purchased a lower range.

“The reason for acquiring vehicles was that the queens do not have their own cars and have been utilising hired vehicles.

“The acquisition of vehicles by the state will reduce costs drastically, and this is in keeping with government’s attempt to reduce costs.”

Ngwenya said that with the province’s dissolution of the Department of the Royal Household last year, the office of the premier had become responsible for the household’s affairs.

It reprioritised the budget for 2014/15 to acquire the vehicles for the queens.

“Such a step will reduce costs drastically as the department will no longer use hired vehicles,” said Ngwenya.

Judge Jerome Ngwenya, former chairman of the trust, said the lease on the old fleet of Mercedes-Benz cars had expired.

“The new replacement fleet has been procured through the office of the premier. I have limited details,” he said.

Ngwenya said the queens chose to travel in Mercedes-Benzes for a number of reasons.

“The status of the Zulu royal family, safety, durability, comfort and reliability are just part of the list,” he said.

Judge Ngwenya’s tenure as chairman of the trust ended on Tuesday.

A new board of trustees has yet to be appointed.

Judge Ngwenya said the Royal Household Trust had run into financial difficulties from its inception.

The 2014/15 financial year had been particularly tough.

“One of the serious contributory factors was the Department of the Royal Household, which for five years withheld monies due to the trust.

“The Trust has submitted a request for close to R30m to the office of the premier, which has now taken over the duties of the department.”

Kevin Mileham, the DA’s national spokesman on corporate governance and traditional affairs, said he was “appalled” by the purchase of the vehicles. He said that in December he had called for:

- A comprehensive audit of the royal household’s expenditure for the past three financial years.

- Checks and balances to ensure expenditure was in line with approved budgets.

- A process to benchmark the Royal Household’s budget against those of other royal households supported by money from the national and provincial governments.

Mileham said he had yet to receive answers.

“They asked for top-up funding despite the millions of rand in (public money) they had spent – and now they are buying new luxury vehicles?

“This just doesn’t make sense.

“Why should we bear the brunt because the king’s wives want to drive around in fancy cars?”

The IFP and the ANC supported the purchase.

Blessed Gwala, spokesman for the IFP, said that the queens had “needs” and the purchasing of new vehicles should not be cause for an uproar.

“The Royal Household is entitled to a list of things and vehicles happen to be on this list.

“As long as there is no corruption involved and they have purchased this within their allocated budget, there shouldn’t be a problem.”

ANC provincial secretary Sihle Zikalala said he was well aware of the purchasing of the vehicles.

He believed that the purchase was in fact a “cost-cutting” measure for the Royal Household.

“The Royal Household is known to hire many vehicles, but this is costly.

“It makes more sense for the queens to have their own reliable fleet of vehicles instead of having to pay exorbitant fees to hire luxury vehicles.

“I think that this was one of the main reasons for the trust wanting to buy new cars or to upgrade the existing cars.”

Sunday Independent