HIGHER Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande has become the latest member of President Jacob Zuma's cabinet to be embroiled in the "cargate scandal" involving the purchase of a R1,1million luxury saloon.
Nzimande is also general secretary of the South African Communist Party.
The row about Nzimande's purchase follows that of Communications Minister Siphiwe Nyanda, who spent about R2,4million, and Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga who spent R1,8million, on two new cars each.
Nzimande's office yesterday confirmed that he had bought a new R1,1million BMW 750i.
This was in response to a question asked by DA shadow minister for higher education Wilmot James.
James said he was disappointed by Nzimande, who during the Nelson Mandela Day celebrations spoke against "greed, corruption and the selfishness of capitalism".
"Two months later he has given permission for R1million for a luxury car for his personal use - which is self-indulgent, unnecessary and extravagant."
The SACP has defended Nzimande, saying the car was bought for security reasons.
"The last risk assessment conducted by the South African Police Service sometime before his appointment as minister necessitated measures to strengthen and increase his security. This included the provision of a car that is able to meet such requirements and respond to the needs of his diary," the party said.
Cosatu spokesperson Patrick Craven said the federation agreed with the SACP's explanation.
This was a departure from previous comments made by Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi on "cargate" purchases by Nyanda and Motshekga.
"Rule or no rule, they can't just purchase expensive cars at taxpayers' expense, giving an impression that they do not care about the message this opulence gives to the poor," he said.
Recently Motshekga came under fire for buying a BMW 730D worth R874500 and a Range Rover Sport worth R809692.
Motshekga followed in the steps of Nyanda, who had spent R2,5milion on two 7 series BMWs.
Both ministers' offices pointed out that the vehicles they had bought were within the range of their car allowances.
However, opposition parties questioned the morality of such extravagance - in view of the current economic recession.
Yesterday Nzimande's spokesperson Ranjeni Munusamy said the minister's vehicle was bought to avoid high rental costs.
She said for the first month following his appointment the department had hired a 7 series BMW.
She said Nzimande bought the vehicle at a discount price with extra features already fitted.
Munusamy said for his Cape Town office Nzimande has inherited the vehicle previously used by former Education minister Naledi Pandor. He is using a hired car while that vehicle is being repaired.
Other government high flyers include Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor, who bought two 2009 Mercedes-Benz ML350s worth R1,4million and fitted with R150000 of extras, including metallic paint, command navigation, media interface, DVD player and private glass.
Free State Premier Ace Magashule also made headlines with his recent purchase of a R1,3million Mercedes- Benz S600. He blew a further R9,7million on 10 Mercedes- Benz S500s for his MECs.
Amid the splurge by the politicians Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan has earned political kudos for buying a Lexus for R557673 and an Audi A8 for R590500.
Last month, government spokesperson Themba Maseko said the government had set up a ministerial task team to look into the reprioritising of state spending.