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R600 000 a sitting: Councillors munch their way through three courses as Joburg crumbles


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R600 000 a sitting: Councillors munch their way through three courses as Joburg crumbles

City of Johannesburg logo

23rd October 2023

By: News24Wire


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A single sitting of the Johannesburg council can cost R600 000, with the lion's share going toward catering.

Former Speaker Vasco da Gama has claimed the taxpayer coughs up these eye-watering amounts for sittings, with catering costs R800 per person, including guests during special meetings. 


But Speaker Colleen Makhubele says the last council meeting, at the beginning of August, cost the city less than R400 000.

As 270 councillors munch their way through three courses, the city is crumbling.


At the end of the 2022 financial year, the City's debt was R24-billion, and its unauthorised, irregular, fruitless, and wasteful expenditure rose to R20.8-billion.

Its finances were so bad that it had to hire a panel of debt collectors to try and scrape back revenue, which it failed to collect.

Now, it can't even pay the debt collectors.

The City needs R4.3-billion a month to operate, but apparently, none of this has gone into renewing infrastructure - not even for its seat of power. 

The Metro Centre building has been abandoned since 16 September lest it becomes another deadly inferno.

The failed maintenance has led to the stalling of decision-making, and the decision-makers may be unable to sit this month if they can't decide on a venue.

After a fire in the Metro Centre, the council did not sit last month because it could not afford the R1-million cost of alternative venues (without catering), and the Brixton Multipurpose Centre, which the City owns, was unavailable.

The Brixton Centre will be available on 31 October if the council can't use its R280-million council chamber.

Despite the hall being free, Makhubele said it could cost more to use the hall because it would need more security and be made fit for purpose.

And governance does not come cheap.

In Johannesburg, council meetings usually run for two days. With the changes in government, there have also been six extraordinary council sittings this year, some of which were three days long. 

The costs go toward catering for 270 councillors for breakfast and lunch and security and medical personnel.

Breakfast, which the EFF could not resist at the extraordinary meeting on 5 September, consists of savoury sandwiches, yoghurt and muesli, fruit and muffins and a beverage in takeaway packs.

The dining hall has buffet tables laden with food. 

Lunch sees the tables creaking with stews and rice, pasta and meat. Salads and vegetables have their own table with cans of cool drinks.

On that particular day, the council had to wait an hour to reach quorum, and many were absent.

The EFF, the speaker was told, was having breakfast.

The council still had to pay the council costs if the quorum was not met again.

Makhubele has denied that the cost was as high as R600 000, saying that the last council meeting at the beginning of August cost the city R390 353.70, including VAT for breakfast and lunch and catering for Kosher and Halaal diets.

The eThekwini Municipality in KwaZulu-Natal has 222 councillors at each sitting, but it pays R550 000 a sitting.

They meet at the International Convention Centre (ICC), which costs between R500 000 and R650 000 a time.

This is in stark contrast to the uMngeni Local Municipality an hour away, with mayor Chris Pappas at the helm. 

The council only has 25 councillors and the costs remain nil because they use their own venue and do not cater.

"The only time we incur costs for a council meeting is at our annual budget, when we use a bigger venue. Here, the costs are for bottled water and a sound system. This year, it totalled less than R15 000," Pappas said.

The City of Cape Town Municipality spends "just over R300 000" for 231 councillors. 

Speaker Felicity Purchase said: "We no longer provide catering, which has saved us considerably."

Back in Gauteng, the Tshwane Municipality also does not cater for its 214 councillors. 

Vanessa de Sousa, Speaker Mncedi Ndzwanana's spokesperson, said due to the cost containment policy, the only costs were for the interpreters. 

"In May, we paid R60 400. This is for sign language, simultaneous interpreting and the facilitator."

Ekurhuleni is the other municipality in Gauteng.

Speaker Nthabiseng Tshivhenga said the municipality pays for lunch for 224 councillors at R120 a plate, which costs R26 880 per sitting. Media is done in-house, and special events, like the Budget Speech, will cost more because of guests. 

"Ekurhuleni is under cost containment, so we can't spend extra," she said.

A Mangaung Municipality official, who asked not to be named, said the council has been using the city hall for around R280 000 a sitting. 

"The council chamber only has room for 45 people ,and during Covid this was unsuitable. If a meeting is under five hours, it costs around R50 000, catering to around 150 people, including staff and visitors, at R250 per person."

She said the costs include printing for the 100 councillors.

Wayne Duvenage, CEO of the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse, said these costs were concerning.

"The contracts of these services are generally managed by connected individuals and cronies at inflated prices, so there is a lot of money to be made on catering and security services provided for the meetings. There are also significant additional costs in overtime spending for administrative and support staff," he said.

The organisation, he said, believes the costs per meeting are grossly excessive and unnecessary. 

"One needs to compare these to those councils with the lowest cost per person and benchmark these as the limits to be set. 

"It's also important that there is absolute transparency on what this money is being spent on, and who the service providers are. This is an avenue of corruption that goes unnoticed and applies not only at local government level but through to provincial offices and national departments, including Parliament."

Professor Alex van den Heever from the University of Witwatersrand School of Governance said city councils were central to the governance of municipalities. 

"They form part of a system of representative democracy that establishes a linkage between society and the exercise of the powers of government. The costs of a meeting are therefore negligible in comparison to the overall deployment of resources and municipal services - which are vast. 

"However, if the functions of government are not being carried out - which appears to be the case in eThekwini, Buffalo City, Johannesburg, Mangaung and Nelson Mandela Bay, then all expenditures are a deadweight loss to society."

He said there had been a breakdown of the link between representatives and society, "which can in part be attributed to the evolving nature of South Africa's electoral politics - which has to date failed to make governing parties accountable".

"Failures in the social contract can largely be attributed to the capture of key parties by malicious actors. Their very costly poor performance will remain indefinitely so long as the electorate fails to exercise their right to hold them to account."


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