A R250 000 overseas jaunt by Mbombela municipal mayor Cathy Dlamini, her bodyguard and five councillors and municipal managers has come under heavy fire from the Democratic Alliance (DA) in Mpumalanga.
The trip took in Disney World and other popular tourist sites in the United States and the United Kingdom.
“The trip was not budgeted for in the 2011/2012 municipal budget,” said Anthony Benadie, the leader of the DA in the province.
“It is ludicrous for a municipality to send a delegation overseas when it does not have the capacity to deliver adequate services to its residents.”
The municipality was dysfunctional in terms of service delivery and there were problems with water, electricity, refuge and sanitation, he said. “Why on earth would a mayor from Mbombela, of all places, think anyone would want to kill her in Disney World?” Benadie asked. “Maybe she thought it might be someone disguised as Mickey Mouse.
“That is the craziest thing of all, to take a bodyguard on this trip. The idea was to learn best practice in terms of attracting tourism but when dozens of places in Mbombela don’t have flushing toilets, the trip just seems questionable,” he said.
Joseph Ngala, the municipality’s senior manager for communications, said the trip’s focus was on various business, funding and management models. Disney World was included because Mbombela wanted to build a theme park.
Asked why Dlamini’s bodyguard, Jomo Malupe, had been allowed to go on the trip, Ngala said the bodyguard had investigated various “best practices” in security offered in other countries.
“We certainly did not decide ‘let this young man have a holiday’. And it is not that the mayor is in any sort of danger,” said Ngala. “But we need to expand our VIP protection practices and we could do that only if we sent one of our own.” Ngala sent the Mail & Guardian the programme for the visit, which ran from August 31 to September 18. It shows that Dlamini and Malupe had adjoining rooms at several hotels. “Malupe is still responsible for the safety of the mayor, irrespective of where she is,” said Ngala.
Ngala disputed suggestions by the DA and in local media reports that the Mpumalanga Economic Growth Agency financed the trip.
“The trip is funded through the finances of the municipality for the current financial year,” he said.
The trip to Disney World promised a fun day in which guests could move “out of the real world” and immerse themselves in a “unique environment”, the programme said.
There were also trips in Florida to Sea World and Orlando’s convention centre, followed by an evening dinner dubbed as an “Arabian Night”.
For that leg of the trip, the delegation stayed in Orlando’s four-star Shingle Creek Hotel.
In New York, the delegation stayed at the four-star Hilton Hotel and visited Staten Island and Central Park among other sights.
Part of the group returned home this week, but Dlamini, Malupe and others went on to the United Kingdom for business meetings and visits to convention and business centres.
There, the programme reflects, the group booked into the four-star Marriott Hotel in Sunderland, where Dlamini and Malupe again had adjoining rooms.