eThekwini mayor James Nxumalo File photo: Siyanda Mayeza

Durban - eThekwini executive committee members have crossed swords over mayor James Nxumalo’s official trip to Gabon.

The DA strongly criticised the need for a councillor to accompany Nxumalo on his visit to the capital, Libreville, saying on Tuesday that it was a waste of money. Some councillors asked what the city stood to gain from the visit.

ANC councillors disagreed, saying it was important for councillors to accompany Nxumalo, as they did not want the delegation to be too small. Nxumalo said there would be parallel meetings, requiring more than one person, and money was “not an issue”.

Members of the executive committee had been discussing a report in which the head of the international and governance relations cluster, Eric Apelgren, sought approval for Nxumalo, a councillor and three officials to attend the Gabon 20 years of democracy celebrations and SA week in Libreville, which take place from Saturday to Thursday.

Libreville and eThekwini became sister cities when they signed a memorandum of agreement in 2012. Gabon is a major oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa, the second-largest manganese producer and an exporter of quality wood products.

The aim of the trip, which it is estimated will cost just over R107 000, is to discuss co-operation with Libreville, explore areas of interest, such as the green economy and trade and investment opportunities, and lobby for the AIVP World Conference for cities and ports to be held in Durban in November - while representing the city. Apelgren said the trip would also give Nxumalo the opportunity to meet Libreville’s new mayor.

DA caucus leader Zwakele Mncwango questioned the need for a councillor to be part of the entourage.

“It is an extra cost. That money can be used for service,” he said.

This sparked a heated debate with ANC councillor Nigel Gumede, who said the mayor needed “a person to share political views with” on the trip.

“In fact, one councillor is not enough. What if the mayor gets sick and is abroad?”

Nxumalo agreed that he needed to have a councillor with him, adding that he thought his delegation was too small. He said the president and the premier took big delegations on international trips because it was protocol. “We have enough money,” he said.

Nxumalo said there would be parallel meetings and he could not divide himself in two.

“We are going to discuss important things.”

Deputy mayor Nomvuzo Shabalala stepped in, saying the mayor needed more people.

Shabalala recommended that the mayor take three councillors, but it was eventually settled he would take one.

ANC councillor Fawzia Peer said the city was not a “bush” municipality. “This is a metropolitan and there are budgets for all departments,” Peer said.

DA councillor Heinz de Boer said the party wanted value for money and whoever went on the trip should be able to drum up investment.

IFP councillor Mdu Nkosi said his party did not dispute that the mayor had to go on official trips, but their importance should be reviewed. “We have had so many celebrations. How will this trip benefit the city?”

Representatives of Transnet and the Durban Chamber of Commerce are to join the city’s delegation, at their own expense.

* Those who will accompany the mayor are Apelgren; deputy head of small micro and medium enterprises, Sindi Shangase; programme manager for the eThekwini maritime cluster, Noma Sokhela; and a councillor to be chosen by the Speaker.

The Mercury