Durban - They earn R33 000 a month yet more than a dozen eThekwini councillors are living in subsidised municipal flats meant to house low-income earners.
The ANC and IFP ward councillors have been staying in heavily subsidised council flats in Kenneth Gardens in uMbilo, Westgate Gardens in Greyville and Merloth Gardens in Morningside.
The average rent in these complexes ranges from R1 000 to R1 400 a month, excluding electricity and water.
While the municipality has refused to divulge how many councillors are being subsidised by ratepayers, the Daily News has learned from residents of the complexes that the number could exceed 20.
Many of the councillors are also enjoying 24-hour bodyguard protection and have been living in the flats since 2010 after fleeing their wards because of threats to their lives.
Their neighbours are up in arms, saying that the councillors are depriving poor people of cheap rental units.
“They drive big fancy 4x4s into these flats while the majority of people here can barely even afford to pay their electricity bills,” said a Kenneth Gardens resident.
The resident, who requested anonymity because she feared being victimised, said it was “unfair” on the thousands of people in desperate need of accommodation.
“These flats have always been for people who earned a little and could not afford to buy property. There is a lot of anger among residents here because these councillors earn so much money and yet refuse to move out,” she said.
“Some of us here are now refusing to pay the rent because why should we pay the same amount as these councillors who earn 10 times as much as us?”
Another resident who shares a flat with a relative agreed.
“I have been waiting for a flat here for over eight years. I can’t afford to pay R5 000 in rent for a flat in Glenwood or in town so this is my only option,” the resident said.
“They keep promising us we will get accommodation but when a flat does become available it goes straight to a councillor.”
Nigel Gumede, chairman of the eThekwini housing committee, said it was not a “train smash” that councillors were living in municipal flats, but it was up to the municipality to reassess their needs to determine if they still needed the accommodation and the security assigned to them.
“The security situation is not assessed by us but by the police. So that is out of our hands. With regard to the accommodation, we cannot take a risk and say to people ‘go back to your area’ and that person gets killed,” he said.
Gumede said he did not agree with community concerns that the councillors living in municipal flats could afford to rent privately owned accommodation.
He said many of the people who lived in municipal flats such as Kenneth Gardens could also afford to rent privately.
“This is not about the pay (income). There are people living there who can afford to buy their own houses but they are living there. The problem we are facing in these flats at the moment is that many of these people are not even paying rent and when a flat does become available they invade it,” he said.
Gumede said they had had a meeting about councillors living in municipal flats “some time back” and resolved that they would pay market-related rentals.
“My expectation is that councillors should pay market-related rentals. This would make them different to those who are living there.”
However, he said he did not know if councillors were in fact paying market-related rentals and arranged for the head of housing, Yunus Sacoor, to speak to the Daily News.
Sacoor, who had been out of the office, said he did not know off-hand how many councillors were living in the council flats and what rentals they were paying.
He said the rationale behind putting councillors in council flats
was to save the city money, because hotel accommodation was expensive.
Sacoor asked the Daily News to send his office a list of questions on the issue last Thursday and promised to respond through the city’s communications department by Friday.
By time of publishing today, the municipality had not responded.
The DA’s eThekwini caucus leader, Zwakele Mncwango, said the councillors were contravening the Municipal Finance Management Act.
“The act is very clear that councillors should not benefit directly or indirectly from the municipality and this has been going on for a long time now. We have raised this issue many times but it falls on deaf ears,” he said.
“We have even asked for those councillors living in these flats to recuse themselves when the municipality makes decisions on rental increases or rates rebates on council flats, but the ANC council refuses.”
He said the councillors were not paying market-related rentals and were being subsidised by ratepayers.
One of the councillors in question, who did not want his name published “as those who want to kill me will know where I live”, said “many councillors” were living in municipal flats.
He did not want to say how much he paid in rent but said it was the same as his neighbours.