It is not safe, says IFP councillor in KZN

2015-07-01 12:08
Bongumusa Zondo (Joe Stolley, News24)

Bongumusa Zondo (Joe Stolley, News24)

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The SA Local Government Association, which represents thousands of councillors across the country, recently called for greater equality between the payment of municipal councillors, MPs and MPLs. This could mean that your local councillor could earn around R1.3m a year.

So News24 decided to find out what a typical day looks like in the life of a ward councillor. We randomly picked five councillors to follow around in five different cities - Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, Bloemfontein and Pietermaritzburg.

Over the next week News24 will give you a glimpse into the lives of these councillors, representing various political parties.

This is what we found in Durban.

Inkatha Freedom Party councillor Bongumusa Zondo arrives with two men flanking him. My first thought is that a few more councillors want me to meet them. It is only when we arrive at the offices that I realise these are not fellow councillors or party members seeking publicity. They are his bodyguards. It all falls into place. I better than anyone should know why he needs bodyguards.

He is the councillor for Ward 39, located in the hostels of Durban’s KwaMashu township. Not only have I had bricks thrown at me during my years as a journalist reporting on the hostels, I have been shot at and seen my car torched in what is the last major stronghold of the IFP that has not been wrested from it by the ruling African National Congress.

My assignment is to follow a councillor around and see what he does for a living. I need to see how interacts with his constituent in his ward. In Zondo’s case, his job is a matter of life or death.

“That place. It's not safe. They are killing there and we are always getting information that there are people who are coming after us.”

He is the third councillor since the last local government elections held in 2011. His predecessor Sakhile Ngcamu was arrested and faces murder charges. Before Ngcamu, there was Themba Xulu who was abducted by people impersonating police officer. Xulu’s bullet-riddled body was found in a sugarcane field.

On June 13, a member of the IFP’s ward committee was killed.

“It is clear what we are dealing with. Most of my ward committee members have run away currently. They are not in the hostel now. They are dispersed at the moment.”

He too does not stay in the ward overnight.

Chilling SMS

He brings out his phone and shows me an SMS in Zulu. It’s from someone who will not reveal their name. The sender has a chilling message.

“They are planning to catch me. They are even planning to make themselves as police first. They even gave me the name of the person who has this plan.”

I ask him whether he realises that if he is caught by these men they would kill him.

He quietly replies. “For sure.”

He attributes the threat to "individuals", but does not believe the threats to him are political. In his view, it is about power, not politics. Those who want him out, want his job.

But the risk impacts on his ability to serve his constituents.

“It affects me. People are calling me all the time. According to the people I must be there often but I couldn’t. Then I have to set a time to see those people who need me. I have to call the police. I can’t just go. ”

He says that the police respond to his needs, but he is concerned that those behind the killings have evaded arrest.

Despite these restraints, he still tries to get into the ward almost every day and sometimes he does not call the police. He believes most of his constituents understand his predicament.

But he does not plan his meetings and sometimes he will visit the ward unannounced.

He simply tells those members of his ward that he wants to meet him to keep their phones on because he will call them when he arrives in the ward.

“I don’t want planned meetings. If there are those who want to see me, the only thing I say is that ‘I’ll tell you when I am there’.”

Improved facilities

The Nongoma-raised councillor leans back and says he cannot stay in the ward longer than an hour without substantial police back up. Up until his election he was a resident and had been so since 1992.

When he does visit the ward, people come out in their numbers, but he does not count on being a councillor forever. He would like to one day retire in Nongoma.

He would like to see better housing and better health facilities in the ward. “I would like to see housing in this area. A human can’t stay in the shacks. These shacks must end.”

Residents' biggest concerns are problems relating to housing and health, but since the beginning of this year, they have been given a clinic, he says.

He has to rush off to a party meeting. We shake hands and he leaves with his bodyguards. Thoughts of my much loved Fiat Uno going up in flames return and I abandon any idea of entering Ward 39 late in the afternoon to speak to residents to ask them about their ward councillor. I then realise I have forgotten to ask him if he thinks ward councillors should be earning the same as parliamentarians, who quite often also have bodyguards. Going into the recent history of the KwaMashu hostels, it’s quite clear Zondo needs them.

Read more on:    ifp  |  durban  |  local government  |  service delivery

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