Durban on the up after purge

Mxolisi Kaunda was appointed mayor of Durban by the governing party last month. (Mbuyiselo Ndlovu)

Mxolisi Kaunda was appointed mayor of Durban by the governing party last month. (Mbuyiselo Ndlovu)

The CCTV cameras in the mayor’s parlour on the second floor of Durban’s city hall, disabled during Zandile Gumede’s chaotic tenure as first citizen, have been turned back on.

Word around city hall has it that the cameras went down in 2016 — at about the time the R208-million waste disposal tender, over which Gumede was arrested in May, was being put together.

It’s not clear whether the cameras were switched back on by former deputy mayor Fawzia Peer, during her stint as interim mayor when Gumede was suspended because of her arrest, or by her successor, Mxolisi Kaunda.

Kaunda was appointed mayor by the governing party last month, after it recalled its contingents to the Durban and Pietermaritzburg municipalities over poor performance and political infighting in both cities.

If it was Kaunda who returned electronic scrutiny to the parlour, he wasn’t saying so this week during an interview with the Mail & Guardian.

Kaunda, the former KwaZulu-Natal transport and public safety MEC, flinched, almost imperceptibly, at a question about the cameras, ignored it and ploughed on with his pitch on the plans to bring about stability and policy certainty in the city ahead of the 2021 local government elections.

Acknowledged or not, the reconnection of the cameras not only brought city hall security back into the 21st century but also made it safer for staff and the new mayoral team.

It also sent a message that the parlour, like the rest of the city, is back under scrutiny after three and a half years.

Kaunda said his priority since taking office has been to meet major players in the city to “outline our vision” to retain Durban as a preferred tourism, investment and conferencing destination.

“We need to guarantee them stability and policy certainty, that we know what we are doing as government,’’ Kaunda said.

A first step towards this was the reinstatement of the city’s finance committee, shut down in 2016.
The new deputy mayor, former finance MEC Belinda Scott, is heading the committee.

Kaunda said he had also moved to ensure the city administration acted against staff and councillors implicated in a number of investigations into corruption and maladministration.

The city, he said, needed to ensure that consequence management became more than a “nice English word” because it had “not yet been applied in the manner that it is supposed to be”.

Kaunda said his other immediate objective was to sort out the city’s auditing woes. Previously teams from the auditor general’s office had to abandon attempts to audit departmental books because they had received death threats.

The new mayor undertook to “fight” the business forums that have been hijacking city projects, demanding 30% of business and closing down building sites. The forums backed Gumede’s bid to become mayor and operated with apparent impunity during her tenure, but are now facing legal action from Kaunda’s administration.

Kaunda said the city would use evidence gathered using its CCTV system to lodge civil damages claims against the forums for hijacking sites and attacking council contractors and staff.

Gumede’s supporters want her to stand again as ANC eThekwini chairperson when its regional conference is held later this year, a move they say will put her in line to become mayor again.

Gumede is a key ally of former president Jacob Zuma and was central to the fightback by the Zuma camp, now led by ANC secretary general Ace Magashule, in KwaZulu-Natal after the 2017 national conference. Her faction was defeated by the sitting provincial executive committee at last year’s KwaZulu-Natal provincial conference, but is still trying to take control of several regions.

Kaunda said: “The conference will have nothing to do with city hall. The regional conference will come and go. You will still find us here.”

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