The affordable education loan option
Durban - Umgungundlovu District mayor Yusuf Bhamjee, embroiled in a road rage shooting last week, is guarded by 16 armed men at a cost of nearly R8 million since he took office in 2008.
The disquieting revelation has created a political storm and stunned opposition parties have questioned how an ordinary district mayor came to have such a huge security complement, almost half that of the state president, and one that makes Premier Senzo Mchunu’s five security personnel look like a drop in the ocean.
Ethekwini mayor James Nxumalo has two guards and a driver.
Bhamjee and his deputy, Thandiwe “Fucwana” Zungu, are two of the most closely guarded local government office bearers in the province, with more protection than most MECs and ministers.
They share 16 VIP protection officers who shadow them day and night at a cost of R1.3m a year.
Bhamjee’s bodyguards forced a motorist off the N3 near Mariannhill Toll Plaza with a salvo of gunfire last week, after the man failed to move out of their way.
The alleged triggerman is Thulasizwe Mbanjwa, convicted murderer of former ANC heavyweight and one-time UDM leader Sifiso Nkabinde.
He was released on R5 000 bail along with co-accused Sithembiso Mokoena, after the pair were charged with attempted murder for allegedly firing at the motorist.
Another convicted Nkabinde murder conspirator, Anil Jelal, is also part of Bhamjee’s protection outfit. Bhamjee inherited Mbanjwa and Jelal from dismissed former mayor Bongi Sithole-Mlaba, now Moloi, in 2008.
According to municipal documents obtained by the Sunday Tribune, an organogram allowed for 16 mayoral bodyguards, which have been in place since 2009.
Calculating Bhamjee’s six years in office, the cost of watching over the little known mayor amounts to nearly R8m.
UMgungundlovu operates a budget of nearly R900m with a capital budget of R335m and an operational budget of R544m. The municipality is expected to generate R625m in the current financial year.
UMgungundlovu Municipal Manager Sbu Khuzwayo confirmed that the full complement of mayoral bodyguards was 16.
“The organogram allows for 16 VIP protection officers, of which 11 (positions) are currently filled and there are 5 vacancies. It must be mentioned that these are shared by both the mayor and deputy mayor.”
Khuzwayo said the cost of the officers was absorbed by the district municipality and came in at just over R1.3m a year.
Khuzwayo was reticent on what threats the mayor faced, saying that a risk analysis conducted by the police dictated he have a security complement larger than most national ministers.
“The SAPS threat analysis determines the need for and magnitude of the security package and the deployment of requisite resources,” he said.
Bhamjee, who was voted as the best mayor at the inaugural Municipal Excellence Awards a year ago, has remained mum in the wake of the shooting, referring all queries to Khuzwayo.
When quizzed on his security detail by journalists at a funeral in Pietermaritzburg on Friday, he would not offer much except confirming that he did in fact “have 16 bodyguards”.
Asked why he needed them all, the ANC provincial executive member said: “Because they work shifts.
“I feel the matter has been blown out of proportion. I would not like to comment on this issue, the municipal manager will do that,” he said.
Pressed if there was a threat on his life, Bhamjee would only say: “A security assessment may have been done, I don’t know.”
The former MP said he had worked with his bodyguards for five years without incident.
The Department of Co-operative Government and Traditional Affairs, the body which oversees the running of all municipalities, has remained largely silent since Bhamjee’s guards opened fire on the motorist last week.
Spokesman Lennox Mabaso stressed that the municipality was “independent” and they should explain the need for such a large security detail.
“This is a constitutional sphere of government and takes its decisions independently. We will verify the allegations and will have to get the response in writing,” he said.
Despite the matter falling directly under the department’s oversight, Mabaso added that there was no tangible information on the shooting and the strength of Bhamjee’s bodyguard complement.
“At this stage we have no tangible information other than allegations in the media, nevertheless we are following all the stories with keen interest,” he said.
The DA’s uMgungundlovu councillor, Sibongiseni Majola, said councillors tried to no avail to bring the issue to discussion during an exco meeting this week.
“We just wanted either the mayor or the municipal manager to take us into their confidence as to what the state of affairs regarding some of the council staff was, but they ducked behind the sub judice principle,” he said.
The IFP’s uMgungundlovu councillor Mbongeni Madlala echoed Majola, saying the executive committee this week demanded answers.
“The municipal manager acceded to our request and promised to draft an urgent report to explain the incident and what had transpired during the shooting. However, more worrying is the appointment of two people with previous convictions. Clearly, this was political compensation and the IFP want answers,” he said.
The DA’s shadow minister of co-operative governance, John Steenhuisen, lamented the number of bodyguards as overkill.
“It certainly seems most excessive and it seems odd that somebody who is supposed to be a popular choice would require such a high degree of protection – it is more than most ministers have access to.
“Sadly security personnel seem to have become the latest fashion accessory for many ANC leaders. The more you have, the more important you appear to be.”
While the SAPS would have conducted a threat analysis indicating the level of threat against Bhamjee, Steenhuisen said he was seriously sceptical that any threat “would warrant the excessive use of bodyguards as we see in this case”.
“It should be investigated as it could be unauthorised or fruitless and wasteful expenditure.”
Given that two of the 16 are convicted criminals, Steenhuisen felt that others be screened and vetted.
“It is completely inappropriate for anybody who has a criminal record to be in the security industry.
“The Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority has very stringent regulations in this regard. Those who have criminal records must be weeded out,” he said.