Gill Moodie says the minister's purchase of a R1,2m BMW is no joking matter.
I don't know if your quip that "we'd all like to be more Catholic than the Pope" in Parliament this week following your admission that buying a R1.2 million BMW for official use was an "error of judgment" got a titter from the Honourable Members but for millions of South Africans, it was shockingly callous. Why don't you just kick us while we're down, sir?
Best to keep elitist jokes like that in your own circle. And what a rarified circle it must be, comparing the performance of your luxury vehicles that the Democratic Alliance has revealed has cost the tax payers of this country R45 million this year alone.
But to be fair on our national planning minister, the full quote (after the DA told Parliament that Western Cape Premier Helen Zille ordered that her MECs to use a pool-car system of second-hand vehicles) was: "So, we'd all like to be more Catholic than the Pope, and we commend the honourable Zille on having attained that status, but let's be real about this issue as well" - referring to the fact that there was no point in returning his BMW because of the loss in value.
Mr Manuel, sir, the citizens of this country know all about being real. Stunning as it may seem to you and your exalted colleagues, we do in fact live in the real world so let me remind you what it's like.
Let's take my fairly typical middle class family as an example. Though many of us would hate to admit, it's very hard to pay all the bills every month without dipping into our credit cards. Food, electricity, medical aid and school fees just keep going up and up.
You cough up R250 on essential food items and you walk out of Pick ‘n Pay with one bag. My household pays more than R1000 a month in electricity and we have a gas stove and have coughed up to get a solar geyser. There's very little room to save more except that on power-hungry pool filter and we're considering filling the pool in next year in the face of rising electricity rates. But then that might be a bad idea, considering our municipality has recently valued our house at R2.6 million despite the fact that we'd be lucky to get R1.4m if we put it on the market.
The rise in the valuation means our monthly rates have leapt from R1200 to about R2200 (though I can't really tell as it seems to fluctuate). This despite the fact that the municipality can't pick up the rubbish, cut verges or maintain parks across the city from the plushest suburbs to the townships and squatter camps.
Like many people of my generation, my husband and I support a set of parents financially and the school fees alone for the two children we support will rise to R30 000 next year - and the older one is at a school with classes of 30 to 35 children so, no, it's not a particularly good school.
We seldom eat out, do holidays at self-catering joints within a few hours' drive of our home and on most weekends our recreation involves walking on the beach. We can't afford a domestic worker and pay for a gardener once a week because we don't know what he'd do without the money.
There's not enough money to save for our children's tertiary education or our retirement and we have the pleasure of looking forward to the government exerting pressure on the schools we pay a small fortune for to increase class sizes not to mention the government's ridiculous idea of undermining the private hospitals because the public hospitals are in such an atrocious state.
Like most middle class people, the only consolation is that there are millions more worse off, living in the direst poverty but as far as I can tell the rates and taxes we pay don't do them a damn bit of good.
A former colleague of mine was in China last year to get married and met a couple of top government officials in Chongqing, for whom the standard official vehicle was a VW Passat - which goes for R290 000 new in this country. The mayor of a Beijing district (Changping - where the Ming Tombs as well as a famous section of the Great Wall are), he was surprised to discover, drove an old VW Jetta - the box shape, before they became round body shapes.
Now, if ever there was a country today where the top officials can live a lavish lifestyle with no comeback or opposition, it is China.
So no, Mr Manuel, we don't think you're funny. And we don't wish to be more Catholic than the Pope. We want to stop paying more for less and want you and your colleagues to do your jobs honestly and with integrity.
That means not siphoning off our money to family members and friends by corrupting tender systems and, most importantly, with thrift. In the real world, dropping R1.2m of tax payers' money on a luxury car is just plain wrong - always has been; always will be.
This article first appeared on Gill Moodie's weblog http://www.grubstreet.co.za/