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Mayor plundered food fund

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A former mayor will be sentenced next month after being convicted for fraudulently treating mourners at her boyfriend’s brother’s funeral to “luxurious” meals with municipal funds meant for food parcels for the poor.

Nomagugu Luzulane, who was mayor of the rural Ingwe Municipality, near Pietermaritzburg, had ordered the municipality to pay for catering, sound and a tent at the funeral in April 2012.

It emerged in court that municipal officials, including the then municipal manager, realised the funds were being misused but looked the other way.

Luzulane was convicted on fraud and other charges related to breaching the Municipal Finance Management Act in July by magistrate Garth Davis, at the Durban Specialised Commercial Crimes Court.

She pleaded not guilty, denied being romantically involved with Amos Zondi, who was a councillor at the time, and claimed the allegations were politically motivated.

At last week’s sitting, before setting the sentencing date, Davis granted the confiscation order application for R71 500, which was presented by advocate Rajendrie Naidoo of the National Prosecuting Authority’s Asset Forfeiture Unit (AFU).

The AFU’s order was brought in accordance with the Prevention of Organised Crime Act, which, in this instance, relates to the benefit Luzulane derived from the offences.

The R71 500 was diverted from the Ingwe Municipality’s poverty relief initiative, Operation Mbo, to three service providers for funeral expenses.

Davis ordered that Luzulane pay the confiscation amount in full, into the Criminal Assets Recovery Account by January 30, a day before sentencing.

Operation Mbo was a “special project” run through the mayor’s office, where nutritious food parcels were handed periodically to needy families through the recommendation of ward councillors.

Proper documentation was required before the municipality authorised and facilitated distribution.

Luzulane, represented by advocate Niven Rai, did not dispute the amount taken.

Ingwe’s former municipal manager, Mmabatho Brown, Luzulane’s former PA (Lindiwe Zuma), Zithelele Magobolo (service provider) and municipal workers were some of the witnesses called by State prosecutor Ashika Lucken.

Davis found there was no compliance with supply chain management rules in accessing the funds in question and there was no dispute that it was not used for the “noble goals” of Operation Mbo.

“The money spent did not benefit any persons listed on any documentation, and no Operation Mbo handover of food parcels took place,” Davis said during the judgment hearing.

Davis sought to determine whether Luzulane was genuinely involved in the matter and if she was present at the local Donnybrook Spar outlet when the catering items were purchased and loaded in her vehicle.

Zuma testified that there was a meeting between Luzulane and Brown, and she was given a list of Operation Mbo names, but without documentation. She did the requisition, which was approved by Brown, and an order form was sent to Spar.

Normally families would collect parcels from Spar but she was instructed by Brown and Luzulane to collect the parcels. There, she met Luzulane and Magobolo, who has since died. Zuma noted that the “luxury” items were placed in Luzulane’s car.

She realised what was happening was wrong but followed instructions.

Bonisiwe Nkadi, another municipal official, testified that she was with Zuma at Spar, and Luzulane instructed her to hire the tent and sound for the funeral.

The charges were initially brought against Brown but were dropped because she had become an accomplice witness.

Brown said she received a memo, which had disappeared, from Luzulane regarding an Operation Mbo request.

She approved the “irregular” request in spite of not having the necessary supporting documents.

Brown admitted that a proper investigation of the request was required.

Davis accepted the statement made by Magobolo before her death as evidence. Magobolo said Luzulane hired her to do the catering for the funeral. She was present at the Spar and saw the items being loaded into the car and was asked to title her invoice “Operation Mbo at Sandenezwe (funeral venue)”.

Davis found the statement to be in the “interests” of justice.

Luzulane denied any “untoward behaviour”, maintained that she attended the funeral as a VIP and played no direct role in Operation Mbo and financial matters.

Rai said the witnesses, especially the municipal officials, provided “unsatisfactory” evidence. But Davis ruled that the “magnitude of the totality of the evidence” painted a compelling mosaic.

He said the witnesses’ oral and numerous pieces of documentary evidence showed that Luzulane’s “footprints are everywhere”.

“I am satisfied that the accused’s denials of being involved in the fraudulent abuse of Operation Mbo to illegally procure funds is false and beyond reasonable doubt.”

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