How much you pay for South Africa’s royal families

Taxpayers are footing the bill for South Africa’s royal families and traditional leaders, which cost the country in excess of R650 million a year.

As of 2010, South Africa recognizes seven royal families in the country, after a recommendation by a traditional leadership commission that South Africa lose six of its kings and queens.

Of the 13 recognized traditional kingdoms recognized previously, only seven will remain once the current incumbent rulers of the identified kingdoms have passed away.

The current monarchs reign over the following kingdoms:

Kingdom Region Monarch
AbaThembu Eastern Cape King Buyelekhaya Dalindyebo
AmaXhosa Eastern Cape King Zwelonke Sigcawu
AmaMpondo Eastern Cape King Zanozuko Tyelovuyo Sigcau
AmaZulu KwaZulu-Natal King Goodwill Zwelithini
BaPedi ba Maroteng Limpopo King Thulare Victor Thulare
VhaVenda Limpopo King Toni Mphephu Ramabulana
AmaNdebele Mpumalanga King Makhosoke Enoch Mabhena

Traditional kings and senior leaders are symbolic figureheads in the country with little political power. However, these rulers play an important role in local disputes as well as in playing advisory roles to government – as well as in the lives of the traditional rural populations.

Approximately 20 million South Africans live in areas ruled by kings or traditional leaders.
In addition to the ruling monarchs, the country also has a reported 800 senior traditional leaders and over 5,300 chiefs and headmen/women, who serve as leaders of tribes and clans within a kingdom.

All these traditional leaders are paid by the South African government – and at 2014’s published remuneration rates cost the country well over R575 million.

The South African government pays each king a salary of R1.03 million a year, while senior traditional leaders get R188,424 and headsmen/women receive R79,364.

Additionally, the National House of Traditional Leaders (NHTL), with 23 members, pays salaries in excess of R20 million to support the traditional leadership structures in the country on a national and provincial level.

Living like kings

Beyond salaries paid by government, the ruling monarchs in the country also benefit from provincial spending, which is discretionary.

Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini and a number of other South African royals have been the center of controversy over the years, with reports of exorbitant spending on luxury vehicles, chartered flights and lavish lifestyles.

In KwaZulu Natal, the provincial government even places a budget vote for the Department of Royal Affairs, specifically dedicated to the Zulu Royal Family and the upkeep of King Zwelithini’s palaces.

In its 2014/15 budget, the department received R54.2 million for the king, which was reportedly swallowed up within months, used to purchase new vehicles for the king’s eight wives.

The king then requested a further R10 million bailout from government, and was awarded R5 million.

In previous years, the Zulu King’s reach into taxpayers’ pockets extended beyond R60 million.

“Not enough”

Despite the multi-million budget assigned to traditional leaders in the country, the Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa (Contralesa) believes that they should be paid more.

“Traditional leaders of all ranks, i.e. kings, iinkosi (chiefs) and iinkosana (headmen), are, like politicians in government, public office bearers. They are entitled to be remunerated in a manner commensurate with their responsibilities and status,” the group said.

“The truth, however, is that in this regard traditional leaders are discriminated against. The best that they receive is a basic salary without the concomitant allowances such as medical aid, motor vehicle allowances, pension benefits, etc.”

Following the last reported salary increase for traditional leaders, Contralesa expressed dissatisfaction with the current rates.

The group said that kings were on par with the president, and should therefore draw a similar salary (R2.75 million), and so, too, should chiefs and headmen/women be paid on the same level as their political counterparts.

Assuming that senior traditional leaders are akin to mayors (R1.1 million per annum) and headsmen/women fulfill the roles of councillors (R400,000 per annum), Contralesa would see the traditional leadership salary bill shoot to over R3 billion a year.

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How much you pay for South Africa’s royal families