The city said the house would not be used as the mayor’s private residence, as an opposition party has claimed, but would rather be used to host delegations and guests such as investors, while the mayor continues to live in his private residence.
Spokesperson for the municipality Mdu Ncalane said it made business sense to host delegations in a municipal building rather than to hire hotels; hence the house had been “strategically located” in a prime precinct.
“The house will remain a municipal house regardless who the incumbent is, and/or whichever political party he or she may come from,” he added.
Ncalane said the project had been approved in 2014, as per the Government Gazette regulating the councillors’ tools of trade.
“It was subsequently approved by the council in 2014/15 and was also included in the budget which was approved by council in 2014/15,” he said.
Ncalane was responding to questions from The Mercury after DA councillor Christo Botha alleged that the city was building a “mayoral mansion” set to cost at least R20m, according to his estimates.
Botha said the clearing of the 4 470m² site had begun, adding that the land had been zoned as High-Density Residential 3, and has an estimated worth of about R5m to R 6.5m.
“Consultation with a few building contractors has estimated that development for high-flying politicians can range from R13500 per m², bringing construction costs to R12.32m. This excludes the erection of a boundary wall, landscaping, paving and security features - which can raise the cost by an added R2m. There is still the cost of furniture and interior decoration, that could escalate the price from anything between R750000 to R1.5m if we are being modest, and continued housekeeping and garden maintenance costs can range from R20 000 to R25 000 a month,” Botha said.
But the city dismissed these figures, saying they were made up by Botha, whom it accused of trying “to score political points with outside parties instead of consulting his council official documents containing all factual information about this project”.
Ncalane said the house would be built on municipal land, and thus the city of uMhlathuze would not be paying anything for the purchase of the land.
Last week, the DA councillor wrote to the municipal manager, Nhlanhla Sibeko, asking for more information on the project, which he said had been “camouflaged” as a municipal housing project.
“Where will the additional funding for this project come from, as it is clear that this type of project will cost far more than R5.5m?” Botha asks in the letter.
Botha said the city was cash-strapped and couldn’t afford to splurge public funds on the lavish lifestyles of politicians.
“The DA in the city of Umhlathuze will fight tooth and nail to bring a halt to this obvious waste of public funds, and we will follow all due processes to ensure that public funds are not deep pockets for ANC cronies and corrupt politicians.”
Ncalane, however, said the city’s finances were healthy, with the municipality having scored three consecutive clean audits.
“We continue to be the premier destination of investment and tourism in the province of KwaZulu-Natal. Being the third biggest contributor to KZN GDP, we are in the process of implementing catalytic projects to deal with socio-economic challenges that relate to development,” concluded Ncalane.