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Struggling municipality defends lavishing office bearers with phones and other eyebrow-raising decisions

eMadlangeni mayor, Mzwakhe Buthelezi, is one of the those got a new cellphone with plenty of data and airtime. Picture: Facebook

eMadlangeni mayor, Mzwakhe Buthelezi, is one of the those got a new cellphone with plenty of data and airtime. Picture: Facebook

Published Jun 22, 2022

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Durban - A struggling municipality in northern KwaZulu-Natal has defended its eyebrow-raising decision where it decided to “bless” political officer bearers with cellphones on top of giving them lucrative monthly cellphone allowances.

“This is an abuse of power by senior municipal officials who are trying to buy favour with politicians so that they can keep their jobs. The municipal guidelines on cellphone allowances are very clear that political office bearers cannot have both.

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eMadlangeni local municipality (in Utrecht) took this decision recently, and the cellphones in question have already been delivered for use by the politicians.

According to a batch of information leaked by a concerned whistleblower, the municipality decided to “bless” the mayor, Mzwakhe Buthelezi, the speaker, Mzonjani Mthethwa, and the deputy mayor, Funelinjani Chonco, with top of range cellphones.

Buthelezi, as the top politician in the municipality, is already receiving an annual cellphone allowance of R40 000 (he gets R3 400 every month).

“It's either they are given a cellphone allowance, or the municipality gives them cellphones and pays for them. In this case, they got allowances and later were given cellphones with plenty of data and airtime. The bill will be picked up by the municipality, which is in financial disarray,” the whistle-blower said.

According to a letter, which was signed off by the acting municipal manager, Grace Mavundla, a former KZN provincial government official, the cellphones were ordered from Vodacom, but their value is not stipulated.

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“Please add five (5) more cellphones in our existing account … on the following packages...,” read part of the letter, which shows that the cellphones purchased were Samsung galaxy A22.

The contract will run for 36 months, and some of the packages include R20 GB of data for the politicians to use every month. The latest splurge comes as the municipality is facing discontent staff and a threat of a service delivery protest from residents who feels that the municipality is now worse off than the time it was governed by the ANC.

Last month, the municipality admitted its house was not in order and blamed the previous administration for that while working on fixing the mess.

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At the same time, the staff of the municipality was still shocked after the municipality fired Menzi Mhlungu, the driver of the speaker, last month.

Mhlungu’s firing came after Mthethwa wrote to Mavundla asking her to give the decision the green light, citing security and operation issues.

“As you are aware that Mr Menzi Mhlungu, who is employed as a driver, who is attached to my office, was involved in a motor vehicle accident, which has rendered him incapacitated. This has caused strain to my security detail and is posing an operation challenge.

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“I therefore request that you terminate the services of Mr Mhlungu due to the operational challenges I am currently facing,” Mthethwa wrote to Mavundla on May 24, 2022.“

The request was acceded to, and Mhlungu, currently battling for his life in a Pietermaritzburg hospital and unable to speak, was fired.

The accident which landed Mhlungu in the hospital happened in February this year, and it is alleged that though Mthethwa was not on official business, he was using a municipal car.

Responding to the allegations against the municipality and its political office bearers, Ayanda Mabaso, its spokesperson, said all laws were followed in taking all the decisions that were now being contested.

On the issue of Mthethwa and his driver, he said: “In respect to the query of the termination of the speaker’s driver, the Municipality followed the applicable labour legislation as well as the relevant clause of the employment contract between the Municipality and the incumbent. The relationship between the employer and employee is regulated by this contract and applicable legislation, which is there to protect both parties.”

Mabaso also defended the purchase of cellphones on top of giving the political office bearers cellphone allowances.

“The previous council (under the ANC) approved a telephone policy that was not aligned with the remuneration of the office bearers act. In accordance with that policy, mayor, deputy mayor and councillors qualified for cellphones. The speaker and mayor were accordingly allocated cellphones in line with that policy.

“On May 26, 2022 council reviewed its telephone policy to ensure alignment with the act. In this regard, councillors will only receive this allowance according to the determination. As of July 2022 the mayor and speaker will take over the cellphone on their personal capacity,” Mabaso said.

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