Update: April 18 2019
Due to a technical error, an earlier version of this story made transparent editing changes that should not have been visible to readers. This has been corrected.

The convoy of shiny black German vehicles cruised through the rubbish-and sewage-strewn streets of Alexandra township. With blue lights and sirens blazing, they filled the narrow road, relegating other drivers to the verges.

They slowly made their way to the stadium where thousands of people were waiting. President Cyril Ramaphosa, in his capacity as ANC leader, had come to address residents about solutions to their service delivery issues: inadequate housing, piles of uncollected rubbish, and sewage flowing down the streets and sometimes into their shacks. Days earlier, township residents had embarked on a “total shutdown”, closing all roads in and out of Alexandra with burning tyres and rocks.

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Ever the politician, and with the May 8 election looming ever larger, Ramaphosa told the crowd of potential voters that over the next five years the government would build 1-million houses and distribute tablets to pupils.

The very next day in parliament, public works minister Thulas Nxesi said the government would spend more than R730m on renovations to state buildings and the homes of cabinet members, a report in the Sunday Times said.

And that was just the spending for this year.

Herewith the more telling details of the whopping budget (readers with high blood pressure, beware): R1m to upgrade a kitchen and a bathroom in one minister’s house in Rondebosch, Cape Town; a R29m guardhouse, plus an electric fence and security cameras worth R4.3m for another minister; and R5.7m for new carpets for the Union Buildings.

This is despite the National Treasury urging government departments to tighten their belts and rein in nonessential spending.

The politicians who will benefit from the spending are the same ones who claim to represent the poor of Alexandra and countless other townships throughout SA where people live without basic municipal services.

What is clear is that these communities, many of which are being rocked by a new wave of service delivery protests, will likely be left waiting yet again for their long-promised relief.

The politicians, however, even during an election year, have shown no appetite for restraint. With the right-hand side of their mouths they promise service delivery to the poor, and with the left-hand side try to justify the expenditure of public money on themselves.

Terms like “splurge” and “profligacy” come to mind when you think of this kind of spending — which in the current environment, or any environment, really, is wholly irresponsible and reckless. The SA economy is barely growing. Tax revenue has consistently failed to meet targets and is lagging fast-expanding public debt.

At the Passenger Rail Agency of SA, at Eskom, at municipalities and other agencies, critical infrastructure has not been maintained, mainly due to lack of funds. These are entities that are supposed to serve the poor.

Still, the government’s spending spree on itself continues.

At what point does Ramaphosa’s administration stop to ponder whether its financial extravagance only serves to encourage materialism among debt-ridden consumers trying to keep up with the Joneses?

Senior members of the government are supposed to be leading by example. But cars with price tags of more than R1m, lavish trips and luxury home improvements (paid for with taxpayer money) say one thing: we don’t give a damn about you, we’re only in it for ourselves.