Outcry over municipality’s bill for businessman’s funeral

Durban - The eThekwini Municipality spent more than R761 000 on the funeral of prominent Durban businessman Don Mkhwanazi.

Mkhwanazi, considered one of President Jacob Zuma’s backers, died of a heart attack on July 1 and was buried a week later. His funeral service was held at the Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre.

The eThekwini municipality contributed R761 000 toward the funeral of late businessman Don Mkhwanazi. Credit: INDEPENDENT MEDIA

On Wednesday city manager S’bu Sithole was at pains to explain that the municipality’s contribution of R761 000 went only towards booking the venue at the Durban ICC. Mkhwanazi’s wife, Zodwa Msimang, sits on the ICC board.

The expenditure was among a raft of Rule of Order 28 requests approved by Sithole and former mayor James Nxumalo during the recess called in the build-up to elections.

This rule allows for a mayor and the municipal manager to make emergency payments while the council is in recess.

A furious debate has been raging in city hall for some time on how much the city could spend on a civil funeral, as the city’s policy is not clear. The policy is being reviewed.

This was sparked when the city spent R620 000 on the funerals of five councillors who died between June last year and April this year.

Families of two ANC councillors received R200 000 each while another two were given R100 000 each.

R20 000 was paid for the funeral of a DA councillor who died last year.

Opposition parties, despite acknowledging the sensitivity of discussing the expenditure, demanded an explanation.

DA provincial and eThekwini caucus leader Zwakele Mncwango said it was important to understand the expenditure, “as the act is clear: there must be reasons provided for such expenditure. It concerns me that we still have this funeral policy outstanding.

“Now, we are told that the city is spending R761 000 on a funeral. It doesn’t make sense to me what this money was used for. We are talking about a prominent businessman, who surely had cover for a funeral of such magnitude.”

He said it was astounding and a “concern”. “It’s an insult to say just because we are in recess, let’s use this much money,” he said.

To add salt to the wound, the city had contributed only R15 000 each towards the funerals of the eight children burnt to death in the fire that gutted the Lakehaven/Zamani Child and Youth Care Centre in July.

“How do we, as councillors in the executive committee, go to the public and explain this? I can’t,” said Mncwango.

His words were echoed by IFP councillor and exco member Mdu Nkosi. “I am trying to understand. How do we explain it? A prominent businessman; how do we grant him such a huge amount of money?

“I’d be happy if we’d be given a breakdown as to what happened. Poor people come to us requesting assistance and we turn them down,” he said. “Officials need to explain.”

Sithole said the cost could be down to “gaps in our civil funeral policy”. These were being closed by a report which deputy city manager Musa Gumede and the city’s legal services were dealing with.

“By and large this was purely a venue issue. It wasn’t any other cost other than the venue - the ICC,” he said.

He added that Mkhwanazi’s funeral was “almost like a national funeral given the stature of the person”.

“We took into account the contribution of this person to this city and the status (national funeral). There was no other venue we could have got in the city that could accommodate the status of this funeral,” he said.

Mayor Zandile Gumede said she would submit a “full report” on the expenditure at next week’s meeting.

She warned that it was not proper to discuss someone who had died as it would seem councillors were not sympathetic towards the Mkhwanazi family.

“Even if your issue is valid, I don’t think we should continuously talk about it,” she said. She urged the councillors to show ubuntu.

It was agreed that a full report would be tabled in the next council meeting.

“I am saying, as the mayor, let me be given the opportunity to talk to the city manager. Nothing is being hidden,” she said.

Convention centre and marketing manager, Scott Langley, said the entity would not comment as it was “bound by its confidentiality agreement with its clients”.