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Deputy minister justifies why public works dept spent R93m on ministers’ houses

Deputy Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure Bernice Swarts.

Deputy Minister of Public Works and Infrastructure Bernice Swarts.

PHOTO: Gallo Images/Ziyaad Dougla

  • Bernice Swarts said it was the public works department’s mandate to ensure members of the executive were housed safely.
  • It was revealed the department paid around R93 million towards members’ official residences between 2019 and last year.
  • An FF Plus MP said the government must “sort out its priorities”. 

Days after the Sunday papers splashed on its front pages how the public works and infrastructure department coughed up R93 million on members of the executive’s official residences, the deputy minister in this portfolio, Bernice Swarts, called on South Africans to “restore ubuntu”.

Between 2019 and last year, the department spent about R93 million on municipal services and to maintain ministers, their deputies and directors-general’s official residences.

This included R19 000 to “upgrade” light bulbs in a ministerial residence in Waterkloof, Pretoria, and R1.4 million to upgrade a kitchen in a minister’s house in Cape Town.

On 388 occasions during the three years, taxpayers had to pay for swimming pool maintenance at one of these residences.

This was revealed in Public Works and Infrastructure Minister Sihle Zikalala’s response to a question from the DA’s Leon Schreiber.

The spending occurred before Zikalala succeeded GOOD leader Patricia de Lille in this portfolio. 

When he tabled his department’s budget to a mini-plenary of the National Assembly on Tuesday, Zikalala did not say anything about the “prestige portfolio”, to which these properties belong.

READ | Taxpayers paid R93m to upgrade ministers’ kitchens, install generators and kill cockroaches

His deputy, Swarts, however, said the “department is the custodian of the prestige accommodation”, and they also have to provide moveable assets, like furniture, to their “clients”, which are the president, deputy president, ministers and deputy ministers.

“We carry the mandate to ensure that all clients occupying these residences are housed safely and their needs are addressed,” she said.

She concluded:

We call upon all South Africans to join the department and play their part in restoring our value of ubuntu and ending patriarchy and sexism, and to create a South Africa that does not leave the vulnerable behind. South Africa works because of Public Works. God bless Africa. God bless South Africa.

The FF Plus’ Philip van Staden welcomed Zikalala’s subsequent announcement that there would be an investigation into the spending.

“These expenses are not a new occurrence, and we can no longer allow it to continue,” Van Staden said.  

“While South Africans are suffering without electricity, the lights are burning at these residences in Pretoria and Cape Town. While our hospitals are suffering due to the fact that infrastructure is collapsing, these huge amounts are spent at our official residences.

“While the maintenance of our government buildings is not given the necessary attention, and where this department suffers a huge loss of revenue due to this problem, these huge amounts are spent on official residences.

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“This government needs to sort out its priorities, and we simply cannot continue on this path because South Africa is suffering and bleeding to death.”

In his response to the debate, Zikalala did not address Van Staden’s remarks.

During the debate, the ANC’s Tim Mashele had to withdraw a remark that female EFF MPs are “slay queens”.

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