eThekwini upgrades metro boss’ salary by 66% in less than a year as city falls further into decay
While Durban’s residents are up in arms over the appalling state of service delivery, eThekwini municipal manager Musa Mbhele has had his annual pay package bumped up to R3.9-million.
Depending on who you talk to, eThekwini municipal manager Musa Mbhele is a good guy, apolitical and up to the job. Or, he is mediocre and not worth his recently upgraded R3.9-million annual pay packet.
Mbhele has been under pressure lately so, little surprise, he declined an interview with Daily Maverick this week. He’s actually had a rough time of it since he was promoted to the top job in eThekwini: fighting with factions of the governing ANC and the construction mafia, and against corruption claims.
Opposition parties in eThekwini are raging mad that the ANC, supported by the IFP, has increased Mbhele’s R2.6-million annual salary by R1.3-million. The pay rise comes at a time when ratepayers are livid about service delivery failures and some are involved in a municipal rates boycott.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Civilians spearhead eThekwini ratepayers’ revolt in bid to fix municipality and set up oversight of public purse
But some say Mbhele sitting in the pound seats is only fair. IFP councillor Mdu Nkosi said his party supported the ANC in this instance because of salary discrepancies in the city’s executive committee.
“We agreed to correct a remuneration discrepancy in the city’s executive. Some heads of departments earn more than others and some of the municipal manager’s subordinates earn more than he does. We have to fix this, or we could be challenged in court.”
No way, said ActionSA councillor Alan Beesley. “Mbhele knew what the package was when he signed up. He would have taken on the job with his eyes wide open. I have mixed feelings. His performance certainly hasn’t set the world alight.
“This sets a terrible precedent. Service delivery in the city is appalling and then you give the man in charge the maximum salary allowable by national government.”
The salaries of municipal managers are graded and determined by various factors. These include a city’s population, number of employees, equitable share of revenue from the national government and municipal income.
A report in May 2022 compared the salaries of municipal managers, with Ekurhuleni, eThekwini, Johannesburg and Cape Town having the best-paid officials. Another report did the same comparison with slightly different figures.
Though Nkosi wants salaries standardised, he believes the city’s executive is bloated. “Salaries are too high. And we don’t need all the department heads and deputies,” he said.
DA councillor Andre Beetge said, before being appointed municipal manager, Mbhele earned R2.1-million a year. After he was appointed to the top job in 2022, he received an increase of R505,125, pushing his package to R2.6-million – an increase of R42,093 per month. Now, less than a year later, Mbhele gets another increase of R1.3-million, or R115,514 per month.
“That’s a 66% pay increase in less than a year, yet when people ask for a community gym, or speed bumps to keep their children safe, or water tankers, or potholes to be fixed, or electricity so children can study, then the municipality claims that there is no money,” said Beetge.
And there is a corruption cloud hanging over Mbhele. Reports on a probe by the city’s integrity unit claim that Mbhele borrowed money from a subordinate who has since been criminally charged. In June, opposition parties accused the ANC of covering up for Mbhele. A Daily News report in May said Mbhele was implicated in an affidavit submitted by the integrity unit to the police.
The allegations date back to 2013 when Mbhele was the head of development planning and environment. He and an official responsible for advertising services allegedly struck a deal with a service provider who was bidding to manage the city’s street-pole advertising. Once the contract was awarded, R3-million was allegedly paid in monthly instalments of R50,000 to the official, who in turn paid Mbhele, according to the report.
Mbhele reportedly acknowledged he received payments from his subordinate, but said it was a loan to renovate his house. The report quoted the integrity unit recommending an “extensive criminal investigation”, given the unwillingness of both Mbhele and the official to furnish all their financial statements for the period in question.
A councillor with frequent interaction with Mbhele described him as “a nice guy”. He projected an air of competence but was often “missing in action”. A council source said this week Mbhele took family responsibility leave to attend to a personal issue.
Mbhele’s appointment has been mired in controversy, not least because the ANC said it never wanted him to get the municipal manager’s job. In another Daily News report, ANC KwaZulu-Natal secretary Bheki Mtolo said: “We never wanted Mbhele in the position and this is public knowledge. It’s a pity that, now there is a problem, people want us to account for his alleged shenanigans in the city.”
Mbhele was also in the spotlight in July when the Sunday Times reported on his clash with the politically connected business forum boss Bhamuza Mnyandu, who heads Delangokubona, which is widely referred to as a construction mafia.
The report said Mnyandu and Mbhele had filed criminal charges against each other after exchanging threatening WhatsApp messages. The dispute relates to a R5-million demand by Delangokubona for apparently foiling a plot to bomb the Durban City Hall, reservoirs, transport infrastructure and other key installations during the 2021 riots. The report refers to ANC pressure to make the payment and Mbhele’s refusal to do so. After this, Mnyandu threatened Mbhele for ignoring his calls and Mbhele allegedly threatened to kill Mnyandu.
Mbhele did not respond to questions. DM
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.