Clipping the ANC gravy plane’s wings

Clipping the ANC gravy plane’s wings is a major milestone in the fight against wasteful spending since the dawn of democracy. We discussed why that is with Dr Leon Schreiber MP, who is the DA’s shadow minister for Public Service and Administration in the National Assembly.

ChangeMaker (CM): Off the bat, what does the ANC’s Gravy Plane refer to?

Leon Schreiber (LS): Over the past 25 years, the ANC national government has forced taxpayers to pay for up to 48 business class flights every year for retired ministers, deputy ministers and their families for the rest of their lives. This meant that taxpayers could pay over R40 million per year to fly these former members of the executive around in luxury – on the ANC Gravy Plane.


CM: Why is the DA in Parliament hailing the clipping of its wings as a huge success?

LS: The DA first exposed the full extent of this practice – and the fact that it cost South Africans tens of millions of rand each year – in November 2020. Amid a fierce public backlash and after the DA wrote to both Parliament and the Auditor-General, the speaker of Parliament announced in June 2021 that the policy would be reconsidered. In March 2022, this culminated in the dramatic reduction in this benefit, with all tickets reduced from business class to economy class, the number cut from up to 48 to 12, and with the benefit only being valid for a period of five years instead of for a whole lifetime. Thanks to the DA’s work on this issue, South Africans will now spend up to R39 million per year less on this benefit. 

What did it take to reach this point?

LS: The DA’s success on this issue is a case study of what an effective official opposition can mean. I first realised the extent of this wastage during a parliamentary committee meeting where revisions to the Ministerial Handbook were discussed, also at the insistence of the DA. I then tried to track down figures on how much the Gravy Plane was costing South Africans – but Parliament did not make this information publicly known. I therefore submitted a request in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) to Parliament, which forced the institution to hand over the information. After breaking the story about this wasteful spending, I followed up with letters to Parliament’s Standing Committee on Finance and to the Auditor-General. Altogether, this relentless and determined work by the DA led to the first reduction in the benefits of retired members of the executive since our country’s transition to democracy.

CM: Are there other instances of ANC cadres enjoying massive benefits at the expense of the taxpayer that the public doesn’t know about? 

LS: This past week, the DA similarly exposed how 18 ministers, deputy ministers and departmental cadres spent R1.4 billion on hotels, dinners, and entertainment over the past three years, when most other South Africans were locked down. This amount would have been enough to provide daily school meals to 250 000 needy children for their entire school-going careers. Just as we did in the case of the ANC Gravy Plane, we will use every tool at our disposal as a big and strong official opposition to rein in this unconscionable wastage at a time when millions of South Africans are hungry and destitute. 

CM: What would you say to someone who says the DA just complains about the ANC government?

LS: It is directly attributable to the DA’s work in Parliament that taxpayers now save up to R39 million per year on flight tickets for retired ministers, deputy ministers and their families. That is what being an effective opposition at national level is all about: finding ways to improve South Africa’s prospects even though we are not yet in national government. Making transparent the corruption of the ANC government is not “complaining” because transparency is the first step on the road to change. The fact that we’ve managed to clip the wings of the ANC’s Gravy Plane is a powerful example of this.

Dr Leon Schreiber MP is the DA’s shadow minister for Public Service and Administration in the National Assembly and the DA’s constituency head in Stellenbosch Municipality. He holds a master’s degree in Political Science from Stellenbosch University and a PhD from the Free University of Berlin. He previously worked as a senior research specialist at Princeton University and wrote the book Coalition Country: South Africa After the ANC.