In a move that has sparked heated debate and drawn criticism, the Limpopo Provincial Government has disbursed a staggering R55 million to procure 102 bakkies for distribution among ‘deserving traditional leaders’ in the region. The expenditure, averaging R540,000 per vehicle, has left many questioning the priorities of the government in a province riddled with pressing socio-economic challenges.
The ceremony, held on Monday (November 27) in Polokwane, saw Limpopo Premier Chupu Stanley Mathabatha officially hand over 57 vehicles. The remaining 45 bakkies are slated for delivery before the year’s end, highlighting the substantial financial commitment made by the government.
The decision to allocate such a significant sum for vehicles was unveiled earlier this year by MEC Basikopo Makamu of the Limpopo Cooperative Governance, Human Settlements, and Traditional Affairs (CoGHSTA) during the 2023/24 budget vote. This move, purportedly aligned with South African legislation, aimed to provide essential resources ensuring effective discharge of duties by traditional leaders within the province.
The allocation of R55 million forms just a fraction of the provincial department’s financial plans for senior traditional leaders in Limpopo for the fiscal year 2023/24. Finance MEC Seaparo Sekoati reiterated during his budget speech in March 2023 that the department’s commitment extends beyond vehicle procurement. It includes significant funds amounting to R25 million for the construction and maintenance of traditional council offices, alongside an additional R5 million designated for furnishing these spaces.
However, this hefty allocation has drawn stark criticism. Wayne Duvenage, CEO of the civil rights organization Outa, acknowledged the importance of traditional leaders but questioned the disproportionate allocation of funds. Duvenage highlighted the dire needs faced by the province’s 6.4 million inhabitants, citing issues such as clinics lacking backup power, a shortfall in promised ambulances, and 66,000 learners still using pit toilets.
Expressing concern about the timing and motive behind the substantial vehicle allocation, Outa raised questions about the upcoming national elections in 2024. They underscored the need for fair allocation of public resources to address critical community needs rather than potentially leveraging such spending for political gain.
The controversy surrounding this allocation sheds light on the broader context of traditional leadership in South Africa. The country boasts national and provincial houses dedicated to traditional leaders, serving as advisory bodies to the government while championing the role of traditional leadership.
Notably, the state already earmarks a substantial annual budget of over R1.2 billion for traditional leaders. Individually, allocations surpass R1.3 million for kings or queens, over R1.2 million for provincial traditional leaders, nearly R300,000 for senior traditional leaders, and over R120,000 for headmen/women, excluding staff salaries within these entities.
The expenditure on vehicles for traditional leaders emerges as a contentious issue against the backdrop of pressing societal needs and financial allocations in the province.
This controversy underscores the delicate balance between honoring traditional institutions and addressing immediate societal challenges. It calls for a nuanced approach by the government in allocating resources to ensure equitable development and meet the urgent needs of South Africa’s communities, particularly in regions facing profound socio-economic hardships like Limpopo.