Rowan Philp, The Witness
Durban - The eThekwini municipality set aside R3m to bus thousands of people to hear President Jacob Zuma speak last month, in a bill slammed by opposition councillors as “an ANC rally at ratepayers’ expense”.
The Cornubia mixed-income housing project was opened “again” by the president in an event witnessed by some 10 000 people - many wearing ANC T-shirts. It has already had at least two major launch events - including an opening by Mayor James Nxumalo.
Millions more in costs - including the bill for a vast marquee tent - were carried by the presidency and the department of human settlements.
On Tuesday, a report submitted to eThekwini’s executive committee (Exco) showed that R1 095 000 was spent on direct costs - especially transport and publicity - for what was a showcase of development between three levels of government. But the report also included an unusual “contingency” allocation of almost twice the stated costs - R1.9m for “unforeseen expenditure” - which triggered protest from DA councillors.
The report lists a cost of R258 000 for 81 buses; R216 000 for 112 taxis; and about R390 000 for advertising. The municipality did not disclose how much of the additional R1.9m was spent.
Zuma did not campaign directly for the ANC at the event. Instead, he described the future benefits of Cornubia, including schools and clinics on-site. “Jobs will be across the road and people can just walk. Everything must be here.” Zuma also extolled the virtues of the government. “If you do not like this government, there is really something wrong with you,” he told the crowd.
“Those who say we make promises we don’t keep don’t have ears.”
But beneficiaries who took the stage - like new homeowner Sthembiso Shezi - created a campaign atmosphere with statements like: “We are also thankful to the ANC, that will exist forever.”
'Project shows how ANC delivers'
Zwakele Mncwango, the DA caucus leader, said, “Why not just bus the 482 beneficiaries to the event - why pay to bus 10 000 people from outside to the opening? Of course, it was to campaign for votes.”
Mncwango alleged that one ANC councillor told Exco candidly that the money “was well spent because the project shows how the ANC delivers”.
The DA’s Heinz de Boer said a request had been tabled for a full accounting of the costs. “I have never seen a contingency like that before - almost twice the stated costs. This was an ANC rally from beginning to end, and we still don’t know quite how much it cost ratepayers.”
Describing the budget request a month after the money was already spent, city manager Sibusiso Sithole stated: “The pilot phase is complete and residents are moving in from across the municipality. We received late confirmation of the event, hence the normal procurement process for the event cannot be followed.”