President Jacob Zuma. Photo: Ntswe Mokoena/ GCIS.

The United States Consulate in Cape Town was concerned about the excessive spending by South African government ministers and senior officials on luxury cars, a cable released by Wikileaks said.

“In August (2009), President Jacob Zuma stated that newly sworn-in Ministers were thinking about the recession and no longer spending large amounts of public money on luxury cars.

“However the spending spree continued throughout August and September leading to opposition parties raising the issue in Parliament and trade unions weighing in on the matter,” it said.

The cable released by Wikileaks was created in September 2009

but was only released on Wednesday, December 8, 2010.

It said the global economic recession had unleashed a reappraisal of the role of state spending in the South African economy and the Zuma administration should be on the cutting edge of defining this role for South Africa.

The Wikileaks cable said Zuma's government had failed to cut down on expenditure and was facing a “credibility problem”.

“On the one hand it advocates serving the needs of the poor and encouraging all South Africans to tighten their belts during the current economic crisis, while on the other it is allowing excessive spending of public money on personal luxuries,” it said.

Former Communications Minister Siphiwe Nyanda and Higher Education Minister and SA Communist party leader Blade Nzimande were singled out by the Consulate as the two government officials with the most extravagant spending habits.

Nyanda, who purchased vehicles totalling several thousand dollars, spent the most out of anyone in the Cabinet, the Wikileaks cables said.

However, Nzimande's vehicle purchase had evoked the most criticism as it highlighted the double standards at play in government.

The Wikileaks cable said politically, the “cargate” scandal had the ability to weaken the Zuma government and increase protests, as a loss of credibility had the potential to create a climate for instability, unrest and general lawlessness.

However, in another Wikileaks cable also released on Wednesday the US Embassy in Pretoria said Zuma had “weathered numerous storms” during recent years and he used several tactics of political survival that gave clues to his personality and leadership style.

“Throughout the most difficult times of the past few years, Zuma came across as reluctant to draw first blood, only displaying subtle determination to take the fight to his aggressors. This is consistent with a leader that is aware of his own strengths -

smart power.”

Recent cables released by Wikileaks also focused on ANC Youth League president Julius Malema and former South African president Thabo Mbeki.

A Wikileaks cable focusing specifically on Malema said it was becoming clearer that Zuma respected Malema and his place within the ANC movement despite his comments.

It said Malema was one of the most outspoken figures of the ruling party and had received more publicity from the news media in recent months than anyone else.

However it had never been adequately answered whether Malema spoke on his own or with backing from senior leaders of the party.

A Wikileaks cable titled “Thin-skinned Mbeki will require deft handling” released on Wednesday said US officials “raised caution flags” about statements made by Mbeki and about his ability to accept criticism and manage “collegially”.

A message sent to the US administration from the Embassy in Pretoria said: “He 1/8Mbeki 3/8 has made it known to us that he would like to be invited to Washington before Nelson Mandela, whose global stature has something to do with Mbeki’s occasional manifestations of a fragile ego.

“We support his request and hope Washington will be able to accommodate this brilliant, prickly leader of Africa's most important state,” it said. -