Over the past two years, the South African government has spent millions of rand paying salaries to suspended officials.

Responding to a written parliamentary question and answer this week, Acting Minister of Public Service and Administration Thulas Nxesi noted that the government’s Personnel and Salary Management System (Persal) recorded 1,062 officials who were suspended between 2020/21 by 2021/22.

That excludes data from the Defense Department and the National Security Agency, he said.

During this time, various government departments paid out 131.2 million rand in wages. Officials were suspended from work for an average of 86 days, thus the salary was paid for three months of absence from work.

It should be noted that officials are removed from office for various reasons, which do not necessarily indicate guilt in an offense. The department did not specify which and how many deviations resulted in dismissal.

Most of the deviations occurred in national departments, with KwaZulu-Natal having the highest number of deviations in the provinces.

KwaZulu Natal also had the longest periods of suspension, with officials suspended with pay for an average of 170 days.

The tables below show the breakdown by province and the cost of suspended officials.

2020-2022 years

State departments No. Suspended average days Price
National and Provincial Departments 1 062 86 131,220,645 rupees

2020/2021

State departments No. Suspended average days Price
National 315 64 26,771,901 rupees
KwaZulu Natal 78 167 18,604,803 Rs
Western Cape 22 69 1,738,867 rupees
Mpumalanga 15 77 1,902,342 rupees
Northwest 15 73 1,107,316 rupees
A free state 14 151 R5 266 317
Eastern Cape 7 93 R635 239
Northern Cape 6 77 R861,815
Limpopo 3 62 R305 543
Gauteng 3 12 R69 041
In total 478 84 R57 263 188

2021/2022

State departments No. Suspended average days Price
National 380 64 31,426,800 rupees
KwaZulu Natal 89 174 22,205,822 rupees
Eastern Cape 29 105 R3 720 597
Western Cape 24 68 1,730,997 rupees
Northwest 20 123 R6 632 282
Mpumalanga 15 77 1,934,787 rupees
A free state 13 148 R4 648 836
Limpopo 6 77 R778 626
Gauteng 5 25 R148 056
Northern Cape 3 99 730,650 rubles
In total 584 87 R73 957 457

Ghost workers

More egregious than the millions spent on suspended officials is the government’s problem with “ghost workers” in its departments.

“Ghost workers” are cases where departments, municipalities and state-owned enterprises have shelled out billions of rand to people who don’t actually work for them.

Problems with ghost workers are often discovered when these groups conduct physical headcounts and compare the numbers to payroll.

In 2021, the Msunduzi municipality in KwaZulu-Natal province identified around 120 ghost employees, and in 2020, the City of Tshwane said it had identified 1,400 ghost employees on its payroll.

In June 2022, the Mpumalanga Provincial Government announced a large-scale screening process for all 83,000 of its employees on Persal. Meanwhile, Transport Minister Fikile Mbalula announced earlier in August that his department would investigate how 3,000 unverified employees ended up on the Prasa payroll.


Read: Government finds 3,000 ‘ghost workers’ being paid by Prasa

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