AMID the brouhaha over the eThekwini Municipality's planned “Star Awards” ceremony for outstanding workers, which is expected to cost more than R1.7 million, a community group and its partners are planning protest action to vent their disapproval.
The Durban South Neighbourhood Watch (DSNW), whose members patrol the streets of Umlazi, Lamontville and Folweni to curb crime, plan to march through Durban’s CBD before handing a memorandum of demands to Mayor Mxolisi Kaunda.
At a recent council meeting, the green-light was given for nearly R11 million to be spent on events like the awards function, a hip-hop festival, picnic, a golf day, a girl-child boot camp, and the commemoration of national holidays.
At a press briefing on Friday, Kaunda defended the awards event.
Wilbro Ngwane, an official of DSNW, questioned the city’s insistence to splurge on employees for the jobs they were getting paid to do, yet they refused to assist organisations like his that were volunteer-driven and making a dent in the fight against crime.
Ngwane said their protest action was initially planned for Thursday, August 24, but they were not able to secure the necessary permissions in time. However, they were preparing to protest in early September.
“We asked the city for assistance to purchase working equipment (reflective vests, two-way radios and torches) as we are registered as an NPC and we have 1 200 members.”
Ngwane said they also requested assistance with providing stipends for their patrollers, who were mostly unemployed but committed to creating safer neighbourhoods.
He believed that stipends would motivate patrollers as they often used their own vehicles and airtime to report crime incidents.
“Our presence, especially at night, has helped to reduce the rate of crime. With that in mind, we have been engaging with the municipality for a year through formal meetings with officials from the mayor’s office, even the mayor and heads of other departments.”
Ngwane said they worked in collaboration with the Ethekwini Neighbourhood Watch (ENW), which represented communities from Inanda, Ntuzuma and KwaMashu, north of Durban.
“The municipality has finances to fund projects for employed people. We are confused by their stance.”
Ngwane said tenders were often awarded to politically connected vendors. Therefore, the awards event was a waste of taxpayers’ money.
He said the ENW and their members would be bused to the CBD for their protest action.
Andile Jali, the executive chairperson of the ENW, confirmed that various meetings were held with city heads, including the mayor and his officials.
“They know the truth, we even sent them our constitution and code of conduct,” said Jali.
Visvin Reddy, leader of the African Democrats for Change, said they stood with the angry residents and called on communities to join the protest against the “outrageous waste of money”.
Reddy said they were cognisant of the need to boost staff morale but more cost effective ways were required.
He accused the ANC-led municipality and other minority parties supporting the event of being arrogant and disregarding the struggles of ratepayers.
“It is absolutely appalling. Cancel this frivolous and unnecessary awards ceremony and redirect the funds towards much-needed service delivery,” was Reddy’s call.
Mdu Nkosi, the IFP’s eThekwini chairperson, said they were also opposed to the awards event.
“You can't praise fish for swimming. Municipal workers are expected to do work.”
Given the high number of complaints regarding the quality and supply of water, electricity, poor waste management protocols, potholed roads and various other aspects of service delivery, Nkosi asked: “Will those employees be rewarded?
“That’s the reason civic associations threatened a rates boycotts recently.”
He agreed that the awards were presented annually previously but said the City was no longer what it used to be and its leadership needed to have a rethink.
Themba Mvubu, the EFF’s eThekwini Municipality chairperson and the municipality's human settlement and infrastructure committee's head, said differing opinions over expenditure, especially since the city was experiencing infrastructure and other challenges, was expected.
“When we were hit hard by floods, there were some services that needed to be restored with urgency, like washed-away water pipes, and the rapid construction of access roads and other services.
“Who did those duties? It is the same workers we want to encourage and say well done to.”
Mvubu said the expenditure was already budgeted for and the bulk of the money would be for the hire of the ICC (about R900 000).
“The ICC is owned by the city so the money won’t be wasted,” he said.
Gugu Sisilana, the municipality’s spokesperson, sought to assure that the awards ceremony was not a “bash”, but aimed at boosting staff morale and improving service delivery, something that research results confirmed.
Sisilana revealed that the public would be involved in the nomination process, and the adjudication process would be handled by independent judges.
She said, when service delivery lapses occurred, consequence management was implemented against the responsible officials.
Regarding the neighbourhood watch groups, Sisilana said: “We are giving the matter the necessary attention and we will continue to engage with them.”