Councillor Nomvuso Shabalala

Durban - The KZN government has jumped to the defence of eThekwini Municipality over the luxury extras fitted to the 4x4s bought for the speaker and deputy mayor, insisting these come standard with most cars.

This follows confirmation by the office of Public Protector Thuli Madonsela that it has launched an investigation into allegations that the city failed to follow procedure when it bought the two Toyota Cruiser Prados, for a hefty total of R1.5 million, for Speaker Logie Naidoo and Deputy Mayor Nomvuzo Shabalala.

The KZN Department of Co-operative Governance said the politicians needed the luxury all-wheel drive vehicles to perform official duties that sometimes required them to travel in “scorching heat to challenging geographic areas”.

The purchase of the luxury vehicles fitted with four cameras, a fridge, a full satellite navigation system and a sunroof came to light in July when the DA questioned the move, calling it a slap in the face of the poor in the municipality.

Opposition parties said it was ludicrous that the vehicles had been “pimped” up and asked about the cost of the extras installed.

An enraged Shabalala said at the time that if she had her way she would be rolling in a top-of-the-range Mercedes-Benz with bulletproof features.

Durban’s first citizen, mayor James Nxumalo, however, said he would be happy to drive around in a modest car like a Toyota Tazz to appease ratepayers.

Nxumalo also questioned the hullabaloo, saying that the 4x4s – bought as part of the replacement programme after two vehicles were written off – were a necessity rather than a luxury.

While the DA said it appreciated that Naidoo and Shabalala should have adequate means of travel and transport, its chief whip, Dean Macpherson, said such luxury and opulence were not justifiable in the midst of service protests and rates increases.

Macpherson said that far too often “budget constraints” were offered as an excuse by city officials for why something could not be done.

This claim rang hollow when money was found to buy such luxury vehicles.

The party subsequently lodged a formal complaint with Madonsela’s office, asking her to probe the purchase.

Kgalalelo Masibi, spokeswoman for Madonsela, said a preliminary investigation was under way, with information being collected and analysed.

Masibi said Madonsela’s office had received similar complaints before that alleged public officials had exceeded benefits to which they were legally entitled.

KZN Department of Co-operative Governance spokes-man, Lennox Mabaso, said the department was more concerned about officials carrying out their duties than about the vehicles they drove.

“(The officials) need resources to deliver services and one of those resources is vehicles,” he said.

Often opposition parties and other people forgot to take into account the harsh conditions in which politicians worked, he said.

“They have to travel in the scorching heat to challenging geographic areas. At times they drive through rivers so they need cars that [would be equal] to such conditions,” he said.

The department, said Mabaso, was unapologetic about equipping officials with vehicles that allowed them to carry out their duties.

“So long as the officials are cognisant of the law, in that the vehicles are a tool of their trade and not their personal cars, then there is no issue.

“Let us not forget that these officials have their own vehicles and that most of the so-called additional features that the opposition is complaining about come standard with most cars nowadays.” - Daily News