Inside Durban's bodyguard army

2014-04-09 00:00

DURBAN’S R40 million bill for protecting ordinary councillors is the largest bodyguarding tab in South Africa’s history — and two councillors get the service because of threats surrounding their own murder trials.

Enjoying full-time protection, which costs five times their entire council salary, one ward councillor was recently convicted of assault, another has been given bodyguards on the basis that her husband needs bodyguards — and one reportedly needs protection because he is afraid of another councillor in his own party caucus.

Documents obtained by The Witness show that 20 ordinary ward councillors have each been given not one, but three full-time private security professionals and a leased car, at a cost to ratepayers that could pay for 250 extra Metro police officers.

An invoice for January from Sharks Protection Services, a “black women majority owned” company in Glenwood, shows all 20 councillors — 17 from the ANC and three from the NFP — enjoy at least 62 “units” of bodyguard protection, meaning two bodyguard shifts for each day of the month. They also get 31 days’ service from a driver, which the company describes as a trained “VIP security officer”.

Yesterday, opposition parties and security experts said much of the contract was wasted on inflated costs, and many councillors had sought the protection for “status reasons”.

Three major bodyguard companies told The Witness that the Sharks Protection Services contract — worth R39,3 million annually — was the largest of its kind recorded in South Africa.

Kyle Condon, managing director of D&K Management Consultants — which protects at-risk judges and foreign dignitaries — said his company charged the National Prosecuting Authority R60 000 per month, plus petrol costs, to protect each prosecutor during certain high-profile cases.

Like eThekwini’s 20 councillors, each of the four threatened prosecutors are guarded by two “close protection officers”, with a vehicle provided.

However, Durban is paying R129 272 per month for the same service to each of 19 ward councillors, who enjoy the bodyguards as near permanent additions to their entourage. Another councillor, Robert Mzobe, has been given an additional bodyguarding shift.

The perks are on top of the R8 000 monthly car allowance councillors receive for private cars they no longer need to use, with vehicles provided by Sharks to each politician at R22 880 per month.

The mayor, city manager and speaker have their own permanent security details, paid under a separate contract.

ANC councillors Nompumelelo Chamane and Velile Lutyeku have both been shot in the face in the course of their work — but neither has applied for bodyguard protection. Both have spoken out against corruption and wasteful expenditure.

Yesterday, Speaker Logie Naidoo said the protection was granted based on SAPS crime intelligence threat assessments, but said these were reviewed every six months.

Naidoo revealed there would be “a detailed review of the threat after the elections — where the SAPS categorically states that the threat is reduced, we will withdraw the protection”.

“Of course we must always be mindful of cost,” said Naidoo.

“But imagine if we denied someone this protection and then something happened. We have lost two councillors in one ward alone.”

Naidoo confirmed that NFP councillors Bhungu Gwala and Mzonjani Zulu won their private security teams due to threats that emerged after they were charged with the murders of IFP members in separate incidents. Both were acquitted last year.

The threats to Gwala have since triggered a decision by eThekwini to provide the same R130 000-per-month bodyguard protection to his wife, councillor Bongiwe Mtshali, as well.

Zulu said, “I have no comment on this matter”.

DA caucus leader Zwakele Mncwango said “proper protection” was appropriate in some cases, but the contract cost was “ridiculously wasteful”, and added: “In many of these cases, it is about ego, or it is councillors fighting within their own party.”

Mncwango said he had interviewed three Sharks bodyguards at the municipality, and alleged they had reported their salaries to be in a range between R9 500 and R13 500 per month — well below the R35 500 single bodyguard cost indicated on the invoice.

He said councillors facing genuine threats could be adequately protected by a Metro policeman, at a cost of R15 000 per month.

Sharks did not respond to questions.

Naidoo confirmed that some councillors had been awarded bodyguards on the basis of threats from other councillors, “but we have to follow the recommendations of these external reports from crime intelligence”.

DA provincial legislator George Mari has demanded a detailed breakdown of all councillor security costs in KZN from Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) MEC Nomusa Dube-Ncube.

Yesterday, The Witness spoke to ANC councillor Mathombi Mnyandu as two Sharks bodyguards sat in her office.

In 2010, Mnyandu — a single mother of five — was shot outside her home, and says she has fielded death threats this year. No one disputes that she is in need of protection.

She said she was not aware of the R129 000 monthly bill for her protection, and appeared surprised at the figure.

Mnyandu told The Witness, “It is dangerous to be a councillor in certain areas — I do not understand why members of the community want to kill councillors, but they do, even when they can see the delivery there.

“We Africans do not live behind fences — we are exposed.”

40 million could protect councillors and buy Durban ...

EXPERTS said the few eThekwini councillors who genuinely needed full-time bodyguards could be fully protected for a fraction of the current R40 million bill.

The R30 million or more they say is being “wasted” on the bodyguard contract could instead be used to:

- hire 167 new warrant officer-level Metro police officers, at salaries of R15 000 per month;

- build eight new community centres, or 350 low-cost homes;

- supply the Metro police with the outstanding bullet-proof vests, equip the dilapidated equestrian and dog units, and finalise the R10 million contract for firearms for the department;

- extend by 3 000% Mayor James Nxumalo’s recent allocation of R1 million to help with student costs for Durban’s financially strapped matriculants; or

- resurface one major commuter road, or provide 2 500 new speed bumps.

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