Questions remain over the cost of a trip eThekwini metro councillors and officials took to the United States – and the City's limited responses so far have raised even more questions from Democratic Alliance (DA) eThekwini economic development and planning whip, Welekazi Sibiya.
Although the City confirmed that the delegation was already in the US, it would not respond to News24's query on the cost of the trip, save to say they would address the media and discuss the trip with council on their return.
They are attending the Resurgence Conference held in Harlem's Riverside Church in New York. The organiser of the conference, according to Sibiya, is also a pastor and does business.
Isolezwe newspaper reported that according to City manager Musa Mbhele, one of the reasons for the trip is that there are religious leaders at the event.
Municipal spokesperson Gugu Sisilana said Mbhele was accompanied by the economic development and planning committee chairperson, African National Congress councillor Thembo Ntuli, senior officials that fall under his economic development portfolio, Durban International Convention Centre (ICC) chief executive Lindiwe Rakharebe, ICC board representative Mdu Bophela, and marketing and communications executive Sandile Makhanya.
Sisilana ignored News24's question on the cost of the trip and covered all the other queries.
She said: "A briefing to council and thereafter the media will be provided once the delegation returns to share the positive progress made."
As the City officials and councillors flew over the Durban skies, they left behind a trail of service delivery failures, such as water woes, poor roads and street lighting, among other things.
This week, Sibiya put the following questions to Mbhele:
- What is the purpose of the trip and its benefit to the city at large?
- Who are the people being sent? (their names, organisations and roles in the
- What was the criteria used to identify them?
- What are the financial implications of the trip to ratepayers?
- How long are they expected to stay in America?
In a statement, Sibiya added, "At this stage it is understood that the likely costly trip will be attended by Mbhele, other City officials, and local business people while eThekwini ratepayers will be left to pick up the bill."
She added that instead of going on the trip, the City "should be redirecting the costs of these alleged planned trips towards actual tangible service delivery which, in turn, will attract tourists back to our city as they're currently being driven away to other destinations due to eThekwini's dilapidated, unmaintained, failing infrastructure".
She told News24: "The chairperson (Ntuli) gave me a date of departure on Monday after seeing the questions [to Mbhele]. They are doing everything but answering [the questions]."
She said Ntuli told her they left on Monday. When News24 approached Ntuli for comment, he said he didn't deal with "rumours" and only handled reports in his committee.
He referred queries to Mbhele and Sibiya.
"The Resurgence Conference, held from 15- 20 November 2023, is a global business event aimed at highlighting the status of businesses in New York, Africa, America, and globally. It celebrates and promotes successful entrepreneurs within this community while providing critical resources for those who need them most. This conference offers an unparalleled opportunity to discuss ways we can strengthen our economy, create jobs and close racial wealth gaps," Sisilana said.
She added that the conference also sought to establish trade relations and "progressive" investment talks between the governments on twin sister city agenda, small business development and opening corridors of trade between Africa and the US.
Sisilana highlighted critical areas of business collaboration as particularly focused on the following sectors:
- Trade and investment;
- Destination promotion and tourism;
- Meetings, incentives, conferences and events;
- Promotion of arts and culture; and
- Education and training.
Sisilana said "parallel meetings" were scheduled with the South African consulate-general in New York, as well as US-based local organisations involved in the fashion industry, African film festival, water innovations, asset management and Sister Cities International Africa.
"This conference will reciprocate its hosting at the ICC in 2024. The ICC was chosen as the venue of choice for the Africa leg in July 2024 to also highlight the 30 years of democracy for South Africa. This leg will see South Africa hosting between 150- 200 delegates from across the US, and the Caribbeans," Sisilana said.
She said the trip "will be a major boost for the local economy of eThekwini and KZN in general", with "immediate benefit to the hospitality and tourism industry" on account of accommodation, touring, entertainment and supply of goods and services during the return event.
In response to this, Sibiya said, "Apparently, the people who organised the conference in the US want to bring the same event to the ICC, hence the officials needed to go there. This doesn't make sense."
Sisilana said: "Further spin-offs are expected from the business partnerships to be created, including exchange programmes targeted towards women, youth and small businesses within the sectors, such as the creative arts industry."
"As one of the largest metros which has positioned itself as a tourist and investment destination of choice, it is critical that global platforms are utilised to build networks that will enhance our investment strategic goals."