You might think it a considerable risk during an election year, but President Cyril Ramaphosa had no qualms telegraphing just how severely his party, the ANC, has entirely detached itself from the lives of the people he expects to vote for it.
Speaking to the media, Ramaphosa bemoaned how MPs were “struggling to make ends meet”, adding that many of them were “cut to the bone because they have had no meaningful increase for quite a while”.
It was a startling statement in its emotional obtuseness, but it nevertheless provided revealing insight into the Marie Antoinette-style of self-interest which has polluted the governing party.
The fact is, MPs’ salaries are many multiples of the average salary in SA. For example, National Assembly speaker Thandi Modise and National Council of Provinces chair Amos Masondo each get R2.8m, committee chairs get R1.49m and normal members of the National Assembly get R1.13m.
However, this isn’t the end of it. MPs also receive numerous perks, including free flights, accommodation, food in parliament and phones and laptops.
According to the University of Cape Town’s Southern African Labour & Development Research Unit (Saldru), this puts every MP firmly in the top 1% of earners in a country where 90% of people in a household have an income of less than R7,500 a month.
Now, the point here isn’t to bemoan SA’s extreme inequality, which is a grim axiomatic reality. Rather it is to say that for MPs to whine about their lot in life — when the people they’re mandated to provide better lives for are far worse off — takes not only world-class selfishness, but also rock-bottom EQ.
But it does illustrate how many MPs believe they’re entitled to this treatment, rather than seeing themselves for what they are: politicians living off the taxpayers’ dime.
For further evidence of this deluded entitlement syndrome, consider the testimony of Norma Gigaba, estranged wife of former finance minister Malusi Gigaba, to the Zondo commission in May.
There, she revealed that her husband had given her a credit card with a R100,000 monthly limit, contradicting his claim of a R3,000 limit. “There is nothing in my life that I can do with R3,000 and he knows that,” she said.
Norma might be able to do “nothing” with R3,000, but according to Saldru, 75% of South Africans survive for an entire month with an income of less than that.
Yet, Norma would use the “allowance” she got from her husband — which, aside from the Guptas’ largesse, would have come from his taxpayer-funded salary — to splash out on handbags costing upwards of R30,000.
For a country in which, as Stats SA reported last week, 43% of people are now unemployed (at the widest definition, which includes those who have given up looking for a job), it’s a signal of how out of touch our political leaders are that they’re bemoaning their ill fortune for “only” earning many multiples of what most people have to live on.
It illustrates that not only has their path entirely deviated from that of the voters they’re meant to represent, but they’ve also given up trying to feign empathy. And this rarely ends well.
Historians now dispute whether it was Marie Antoinette, the queen to King Louis XVI, who, when told of Parisians’ battle to find bread in 1789, callously said: “Let them eat cake.”
But what is indisputable is that the out-of-touch monarchy’s rampant self-interest had gory consequences: in 1793, at the height of the French Revolution, she was sent to the guillotine.
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