Durban — A former KwaZulu-Natal mayor who robbed poor people of food was sentenced this week to five years in prison.
Nomagugu Luzulane was at the helm of the rural Ingwe Municipality near Pietermaritzburg when she fraudulently arranged for the funeral expenses of R71 500 of her boyfriend’s brother, including “luxurious” meals, to be paid from the entity’s coffers in 2012.
During the trial, Luzulane, 49, denied being romantically involved with the councillor in her municipality whose brother had died.
For the past 11 years, Luzulane has been working as a teacher and the struggling entity that she once headed has since been incorporated into the Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma Municipality.
Magistrate Garth Davis convicted Luzulane on fraud and charges related to breaching the Municipal Finance Management Act (MFMA), at the Durban Specialised Commercial Crimes Court in July last year.
On Thursday, he sentenced her to seven years’ jail on the fraud charge (count 1), of which two years were wholly suspended for five years on the condition she is not convicted of similar charges during the period of suspension.
Davis combined her conviction on the three counts of contravening the MFMA (counts 3, 4 and 5) into one for the purpose of sentencing, and handed her a three-year prison term for the offences.
He ordered that the sentences of count 1 and the combined counts of 3, 4, and 5 run concurrently.
In deciding the sentences, Davis said he considered various legal principles, case law and the testimony of IM Shiba, a probation officer and Nkosiyakhe Vezi, the current municipal manager of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma Municipality.
The facts he also considered included Luzulane’s proximity to “Operation Mbo”, a programme that identified and provided food parcels to needy community members.
Davis said: “In April 2012, Luzulane used her influence to secure funding of R71 500 in a fraudulent Operation Mbo exercise.
“She was aided and abetted in this fraud by the (former) municipal manager and the supine reaction of those involved in the municipality, thereby contravening the PFMA.
“The explanation for this was simple: those charged with applying the supply chain management protocols did not do so due to the position of Luzulane.”
It emerged that R10 000 was spent on catering supplies, R11 500 for the tent and sound, and R50 000 was paid to the company that handled the catering contract.
Davis was disappointed that Shiba, in her report that recommended a non-custodial sentence, failed to mention the role Luzulane played, the significance of her position and failed to indicate that she was the person responsible for Operation Mbo.
He also considered Vezi’s testimony that Luzulane, as mayor, ought to have been at the “forefront of the fight against corruption”.
Davis said Vezi asked the court to hold Luzulane accountable and pass a sentence that sent a “strong message”.
He reflected on advocate Niven Rai’s (Luzulane’s lawyer) support of Shiba’s submissions and asking that his client be handed a non-custodial sentence. Rai also said there were no indications of criminal behaviour in her time as a teacher.
Davis reflected on State prosecutor Ashika Lucken saying that Luzulane’s offences were serious.
“Fraud and corruption are so prevalent that sentences need to be imposed to deter others in positions of power,” said Lucken.
Davis said Luzulane was an elected official with a duty to protect citizens.
“Yet she chose to steal money from the fiscus. Worse, she stole money from the most vulnerable,” which Davis viewed as an unconscionable conduct.
He said while the amount was not high, it was not inconsequential and quoted case law where accused persons were given prison sentences for theft of smaller amounts.
“I am of the view that the only appropriate sentence after a judicious exercise of my discretion on sentence, and considering all the aggravating and mitigating factors is that only a custodial sentence was appropriate.”