State fat trimmed in battle of the bellies
Skinless chicken, fresh spring water and early morning walks across Pretoria.
These are the ingredients that turned overweight health minister Aaron Motsoaledi into the trimmed-down man who challenged his chubby colleagues this week to eat fewer biscuits and cream buns in parliament.
In an interview with the Sunday Times, Motsoaledi, a doctor, outlined plans to shed many kilos from the government gravy train, starting with himself.
"I was once obese, I must confess ... especially when you are doing this executive (government) work. You are always in a car, always invited to gala dinners. If you don't live on a strict diet you will find yourself bulging," he said.
"The problem is, having a tummy is regarded as a sign of male maturity. If you check, many of us are pushing something in front," he said, adding that a few lifestyle changes had helped him lose most of his boep.
Instead of fatty meats, wine and salty foods, he now prefers lean meat, fish and a variety of low-fat alternatives.
Once a 30-a-day smoker, he has quit tobacco and alcohol and walks as often as possible, "even if just for 30 minutes a day".
His new exercise regime was inspired by Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, whose physical fitness is the envy of even the most cynical parliamentary back-benchers.
"He is one person who lives strictly on exercise - it is just in his blood."
Motsoaledi recently embarked on an exercise programme, involving long walks across his home city of Pretoria. "I can't do that every day but whenever I get time, once a month or so. They drop me there at 5am."
If the minister has his way he and the deputy president will not be the only ones jogging between cabinet meetings.
Motsoaledi says he will raise the matter of "leading by example" at parliament's ethics committee: "I am going to give them this advice. Yes, I definitely feel they must lead by example, for their own health but also to lead the nation."
On Tuesday Motsoaledi proved his personal health policy was no gimmick when he arrived, panting, at parliament's health portfolio committee, having run up four flights of stairs.
He encouraged his colleagues to get more exercise and reportedly said he could wear clothes four sizes smaller than before. Motsoaledi said he had been shocked into action last year after listening to medical professors at a Southern African Development Community health meeting in Khayelitsha, Cape Town.
"The professors were giving us a lecture and they gave a tape measure to all of us who were there, ministers and deputy ministers, and told us we should measure our body mass index, which is a measurement of your weight versus your height.
"I can tell you all of us failed. At that time I did not consider myself overweight but they showed that I was - by far."
He said although he could not dictate what MPs ate while at work, he would encourage a more diverse menu in parliament's four canteens - a move likely to endear him to fed-up opposition parties who have been complaining about declining standards for years.
DA MP Marian Shinn said she avoided eating parliament's food wherever possible.
"Last time I ate in the restaurant in Marks building was at the instance of a guest who had never been. It was an embarrassment. The chops were overcooked and covered in thick, sticky sweet sauce. The dessert, banana fritters, were heavy, fried dough balls swimming in custard."
Friday's menu at parliament's main staff restaurant was: Budget Meal - calamari and chips; Executive Meal - chicken fillet with rice and salads or steak and kidney pie with rice and salads; Special - club steak with chips & can (cooldrink); Vegetarian - spinach roll served with salads.
Independent Democrats MP Lance Greyling said parliament's food had improved significantly recently: "I still don't eat there very much. I prefer the cafes and restaurants in town."