KZN still waiting on R1-billion flood relief while stormcloud of Gumede hangs overhead
One thing became apparent at the annual Investec-sponsored KZN Growth Coalition business breakfast on Thursday: The shadow of eThekwini’s former mayor — corruption accused Zandile Gumede — and political infighting within the province’s ANC, remain a talking point and a very real deterrent for potential investors.
R1-billion in contingency funding that had been committed by National Treasury for initial flood relief efforts in KwaZulu-Natal was yet to materialise.
This is according to KZN Economic development MEC, Ravi Pillay, who made the comment at the annual Investec-sponsored KZN Growth Coalition business breakfast on Thursday.
The same thing was said by Cogta MEC Sipho Hlomuka during his budget policy speech earlier this week. During that speech, Hlomuka said that the cost of the flooding on both public and private infrastructure — with assessments still underway — was expected to exceed R25-billion.
Provincial departments are currently reprioritising budgets to manage rebuild efforts.
Nevertheless, said Pillay of the R1-billion commitment: “We are actually hoping it will be more than R1-billion. The truth is that it has not quite been finalised in terms of the paperwork for that particular allocation.”
The event turned out as most business breakfasts do: a convivial networking session between some very rich people, some not so rich people, and mayors and municipal managers, over sticky pastries and chicken sausages.
Questions from the floor were polite, some even flattering, while others punted their wares.
Clapping was measured and delivered at appropriate times.
In his lengthy address, Premier Sihle Zikalala said what was expected — that in the past two years, KwaZulu-Natal had been hammered by Covid-19, the July riots, and the April floods.
Read in Daily Maverick: State failure in KZN forces people to look elsewhere for support
Platitudes were espoused by the premier — the social compact, the need for business and government to work together, and how “resilient” the province and its people were.
The KZN Growth Coalition remained “a unique platform for senior business leaders in the province to interact with government, and for government to tap directly into the well of wisdom and skills that prevail in the private sector,” said the premier.
He said the floods were “an indictment on how we have allowed our cities to develop without much consideration of environmental risk and geographic location”.
Too, “no corruption will be tolerated” as the province undertook rebuilding efforts, he said. “Together with Treasury, the Office of the Auditor-General, the Office of the Public Protector, and Human Rights Commission we will deliver a corruption-free response on challenges that the floods have caused”.
Treasury would be pre-auditing all contracts that would be issued for resumption and rebuilding of services, which was “already happening”. Zikalala said the office of the auditor-general was engaging with various departments “on auditing as we implement”.
“For the first time, the auditor-general is engaging in an activity that is not post the fact but is working parallel to implementation.”
When asked by Daily Maverick during the question-and-answer session if he could assure businesses, potential investors and KZN residents that ANC infighting, and the potential that Zandile Gumede, who was last month elected as chairman of the influential eThekwini ANC region, along with her faction, were not pulling strings in the background, Zikalala said:
“We are here to deal with business issues. I don’t know whether it is a business issue…I would have preferred to deal with it as a political question.” But, he added, “It’s a question that needs to be answered.”
Without mentioning her name, Zikalala said: “So, when a person is charged, it doesn’t mean that when you are charged, you have been found guilty. Now, let’s take the private sector. In the private sector, what will they do? When a person is charged [internally or externally], they take leave. So, it’s the same with the ANC. You step aside until your matter is finalised.”
Although she has stepped aside in compliance with the governing party’s rule, Gumede remains a member of the KZN legislature and is alleged to be seeking a top position in the party’s provincial leadership when it goes to conference later this year.
Addressing this while still answering Daily Maverick’s question, Zikalala said that anyone in legislature had to adhere to rules and regulations. “And I think we must all work decisively against corruption.”
The ANC was working towards ending corruption he said, and its step-aside rule was a testament to that.
Several of the captains of industry and smaller players prior to and at the breakfast told Daily Maverick that having Gumede in any leadership position left a bad taste in the mouth and would “certainly” impact investment. There was also a fear that she could again be deployed as mayor.
But, at a second, media-only question-and-answer following the breakfast, Zikalala told Daily Maverick that Gumede again being made mayor was not possible, given that she was not a councillor.
This is disingenuous. The ANC could simply remove a PR councillor and have Gumede sworn in. This is precisely how the current mayor, Mxolisi Kaunda, was moved from a provincial government position to city mayor in September 2019, along with his then deputy mayor Belinda Scott, and then speaker Weziwe Thusi.
Nevertheless, as stated previously, it appears that Gumede has her eye on a more influential position in the provincial ANC leadership.
“We won’t stand for it,” several business leaders told Daily Maverick when asked for their response to Gumede being deployed in any leadership position in the province. “We simply will not stand for it.” DM