Outrage has swept through South Africa following Defence Minister Thandi Modise’s revelation to parliament that South Africans footed an exorbitant bill of almost R139 million, or $7.5 million, to cater for President Cyril Ramaphosa and his entourage aboard the presidential jet, Inkwazi, over the past five years.
Modise unveiled the staggering catering expenses in a written reply published by parliament this week. However, when pressed for a breakdown of the costs, Modise’s office backtracked on the figures submitted to parliament.
Amos Phago, Modise’s spokesperson, clarified that the numbers encompassed the total operational costs of the jet, including associated expenses such as fuel, flight clearance and flyover fees, parking, airport handling fees, accommodation for crew, stopovers, and refuelling.
Opposition DA leader John Steenhuisen sought transparency, asking Modise for a detailed breakdown of catering costs for each flight of Inkwazi over the past three financial years and since April 2023. Steenhuisen referenced a report from City Press in November, stating that catering costs on board Inkwazi amounted to just under R600,000 for fewer than 18 VIP guests on a 12-hour flight from London to SA after Queen Elizabeth’s funeral in 2022.
Modise clarified that the flight to London was part of a presidential flight from SA to Washington DC, in the US, via Las Palmas, for Ramaphosa’s working visit to the US at President Joe Biden’s invitation, from September 15, 2022, to September 17, 2022. She explained that the catering costs covered all legs flown by the aircraft and mentioned the short notice and currency fluctuations contributing to the London leg’s increased pricing.
Modise disclosed that there were 13 VIPs and eight crew members on board, including Ramaphosa, spokesperson Vincent Magwenya, parliamentary counsellor Gerhard Koornhof, and medical practitioners. The provided breakdown showed expenses of R33.7 million in the 2018/2019 financial year, R42.4 million in 2019/2020, R5.1 million in 2020/2021, R7.8 million in 2021/2022, R30.7 million in 2022/23, and R19 million so far in the current financial year. However, the number of flights during this period was not disclosed.
Steenhuisen expressed his dismay, stating, “It is frankly outrageous that these huge sums are being spent on meals for the president and his elite cronies in the air while our (South Africans) children are literally starving on the ground below.
“If anything, it shows how little the president and his government care. It’s wanton abuse of luxury perks and privileges while citizens are struggling to survive. The president should be ashamed that so much money is being spent on his comfort while his government has caused so much daily suffering for the people of our country.”
He emphasised that under a DA administration, the jet would be sold and the country’s leaders would fly commercially, aligning with leaders of other countries at the same economic level as South Africa.