DURBAN - eThekwini opposition parties used the first business-as-usual executive council committee (Exco) meeting on Friday to put pressure on new mayor Mxolisi Kaunda, citing serious shortcomings with various departmental heads.
Kaunda - the former KZN transport and safety member of the executive council (MEC) - agreed with some of their sentiments, signalling a shift in the leadership style experienced under former mayor Zandile Gumede.
On more than one occasion, the new ANC mayor agreed with the opinion shared by the DA and Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), asking that inquiries be made into poorly performing city units.
He also deferred items after the opposition parties objected to the acceptance of some reports.
The Exco meeting – usually held on a Tuesday - took place on Friday at Durban City Hall to deal with a backlog of reports.
The municipality experienced a period of near-paralysis when Gumede initially denied the ANC by refusing to relinquish her position.
Kaunda flexed his authority over the city officials at Friday’s meeting, citing concerns that included poor financial and project management and filthy ablution facilities on Durban’s Golden Mile promenade.
He also used the sitting to reprimand city manager Sipho Nzuza for failing to have a full grasp of items up for discussion, and for the non-attendance of senior officials, who needed to answer questions brought before the committee.
The community participation and active support unit, and the parks, recreation and culture unit, were criticised by opposition parties, who said they operated outside of their mandates and with no appropriate oversight -- despite spending vast sums of money.
“They only account to themselves and undermine our councillors. There is historically not adequate functioning of this department,” said DA caucus leader Nicole Graham of the public participation unit.
Her party’s protest over a R127-million budget being passed for this department was accepted by the ANC, with Kaunda stating that there needed to be further details provided to the committee on reports with such high-cost implications.
DA councillor Yogis Govender said the parks unit was often “in the media for all the wrong reasons”.
“After events are completed, we don’t get a report-back on the event. The head of department hardly comes prepared for these meetings. The community services committee has never reached its full potential. We require better reporting,” said Govender.
The parks department is led by Thembinkosi Ngcobo, who came under fire in January for wanting to fund an album of “struggle songs” recorded by former president Jacob Zuma, as part of his department’s arts and living legends project.
On Friday, Kaunda spoke directly to the new chairperson of the community services committee, Ntokozo Sibiya, telling her the committee needed to be “thorough”.
“This unit must be looked at,” said Kaunda.
In another instance, Kaunda said of the parks department that it was “unacceptable” that the head of the department was not present.
Nzuza apologised, saying it would not happen again.
In yet another instance, IFP councillor Msunduzi Nkosi raised concerns over corruption in the managing of soup kitchens, even though the city had proposed to make more funding available for additional kitchens.
Kaunda committed to visiting the facilities and deputy mayor Belinda Scott - a former provincial treasury MEC - affirmed that all costs would be scrutinised.
A new aspect of Kaunda’s administration was that there was no food in the Friday meeting.
Normally, Exco has an array of fruits, wraps, sandwiches, muffins and fresh juice -- despite a substantial lunch being served afterwards.
Scott said that going forward, only biscuits and tea would be made available.