President Jacob Zuma’s family has raised doubts about the President’s ability to pay the R7.8 million bill for the non-security upgrades installed at his Nkandla homestead.

“We are not a rich family. If they want him to pay, I do not know where he is going to get the money. He has not spoken to us about this matter and we have only learnt about it in the news,” Zuma’s brother Michael told the Sunday Times.

In March the National Assembly approved President Zuma’s annual salary increase of 4.4% to a total of R2.8 million per year.

Contrary to popular belief and various news reports – some of which put Zuma among the top ten highest paid presidents in the world – Zuma is the 18th highest paid world leader, slotting in between the presidents of Norway and France.

Top paid presidents

For the sake of clarity, according to 24/7 Wall Street the five top paid presidents in the world are:

  1. Lee Hsien Loong – Singapore, $1.7 million per year
  2. Leung Chun-ying – Hong Kong, $567 000 per year
  3. Johann Schneider-Ammann – Switzerland, $460 000 per year
  4. Barack Obama – USA, $400 000 per year
  5. Malcolm Turnbull – Australia, $396 000

Even with Zuma’s increase, his salary matches up to $192 000 per year, slightly ahead of Norway’s President Erna Solberg ($182 000 per year) and France’s President Francois Holland, who gets $202 000 per year.

But here is the thing; the president has virtually no real expenses – that can be tangibly track down at least. He has no rent to pay, clothing should be paid for by the state, and the state pays for his drivers and security, so car payments and fuel costs won’t come out of his pocket.

Zuma has been president of South Africa for seven years, and assuming that he drew roughly the same salary for all seven (working on a modest average of R2.5 million per year), Zuma made a total of at least R17.5 million during his tenure.

Knock R7.8 million from that, he should have R9.7 million left in his bank account.

Zuma’s expenses

Very little is known about Zuma’s personal expenses, but it is safe to assume that the state pays for most of his costs.

As an example, US President Barack Obama gets an annual salary of $400 000 per year.

In addition to that, he gets a $50 000 annual expense account, a $100 000 non-taxable travel account, and $19 000 for entertainment. So most of his expenses are already covered.

One could argue that Zuma spends most of his disposable income on his six wives, but that is exactly why there is a Presidential Spousal Support Unit.

This falls under the president’s private office and is designed to support, “the spouses of the president and deputy president in their partnership role in presidential, ceremonial, state and executive functions and in all other duties and responsibilities related to their positions as spouses”, according to the President’s Office.

Former spokesman for the president Mac Maharaj in 2014 explained that the unit cost R7.877-million in 2010-11; R11.165-million in 2011-12; R7.068-million in 2012-13 and R13.019-million in 2013-14 – a total of R54.6 million for his first term in office.

Maharaj was quick to explain though that “nothing is paid for by the state in the four households of the spouses.”

According to him, what is covered by the state is:

  • Personal support staff (a private secretary and researcher)
  • Domestic and international air travel and accommodation for official visits approved by the president
  • Cellular phones for spouses and their secretaries
  • IT equipment such as laptops and printers
  • A special daily allowance for incidental expenses during official journeys.

The government has also done its part in protecting the balance sheets in terms of just how much Zuma has cost the country. Similarly, it is also difficult to track down Zuma’s personal expenditures, so obtaining an accurate total for both figures are pretty tough.

In the past, South Africa’s Auditor General has been scathing over the President’s Office’s misreporting on expenditure, however, in 2012 Inside Politics published a fairly extensive breakdown of just how much he costs the government each year, and the amounts are staggering. That article can be read here.

So purely based on the president’s official salary, it seems that Zuma should (even being very conservative with the estimates) have the money to pay back the cost for the non-security upgrades.  That estimate also doesn’t take into account the various other business incomes from other sources he generated over time.

If he can’t pay the amount in full, he sure would have enough money to stretch it out over three or four payments.

[Image – CC by 2.0/World Economic Forum]
Charlie started his professional life as a motoring journalist for a community newspaper in Mpumalanga, Charlie explored different journalistic angles since his entry into the fast-paced world of publishing in 2006. While fostering a passion for the arts, Charlie developed a love for technology – both which allowed him to serve as Entertainment and Technology Editor for an online publication. Charlie has since been heavily involved in consumer technology for various websites and publications. He thoroughly enjoys World War II films and cerebral documentaries; aviation; photography and indie music. Oh yes, and he also has a rather strange obsession with collecting coffee mugs from his travels.