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S.African ex-leaders grounded by exhausted budget: report

South Africa has grounded former president Nelson Mandela and his successors from free flights as the presidency has run out of funds for the retired leaders’ travel perk, a report said Friday.

“The presidency is currently experiencing serious budgetary constraints and unfortunately the budget that was allocated to you for travel and subsistence has been exhausted,” The Times quoted a letter as saying to the former leaders.

“We are therefore not in the position to fund any further flights until March 31, 2012. This benefit will resume with effect April 1, 2012.”

The leaders affected include 93-year-old Mandela who is currently in his home village of Qunu, his predecessor FW de Klerk and successor Thabo Mbeki who regularly mediates in African conflicts.

Presidency spokeswoman Zanele Mngadi said the current economic climate had forced the cuts and that staff have been told to rein in spending.

“The presidency is also exploring economy class travel for senior managers up to chief director level as part of the cost-saving measures,” she told the newspaper.

“All units within the presidency have been informed about cost-cutting measures and they have all accepted what is now called inside the Union Buildings the ‘financial diet’.”

Former heads of state receive a number of perks including VIP protection and state-sponsored flights.

After polygamous President Jacob Zuma took office, the spousal budget for his wives and children in the presidency nearly doubled to 15.5 million rands ($1.8 million, 1.4 million euros) up from eight million allocated to Mbeki.

The unit was a “very tiny component” of the office and will also be part of the trimmed spending, The Times reported Mngadi as saying.