Former KZN mayor who stole from the poor goes to jail for five years

08 February 2024 - 19:55 By TANIA BROUGHTON
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A former KwaZulu-Natal mayor was sentenced to five years for stealing money from a food scheme programme to fund the funeral of a councillor's relative.
A former KwaZulu-Natal mayor was sentenced to five years for stealing money from a food scheme programme to fund the funeral of a councillor's relative.
Image: 123RF/Lukas Gojda

The former mayor of Ingwe municipality in KwaZulu-Natal, Nomagugu Luzulane, has been sentenced to an effective five years in jail after he was convicted of stealing from the poor to fund a funeral of a local councillor’s relative.

Durban commercial crimes court magistrate Garth Davis convicted Luzulane last year of fraud involving R71,500 and contraventions of the Municipal Finance Management Act (MFMA).

The facts proved that in 2012, the Ingwe municipality, largely rural and poor, had implemented Operation Mbo, an outreach programme to assist needy people with food parcels containing basic foodstuffs.

While Luzulane did not challenge that the money was stolen — that it had not been used for a genuine Operation Mbo initiative and that supply chain principles were not followed, she said she was not involved and the charges were politically motivated.

It was alleged during the trial she was involved in a romantic relationship with the councillor, Amos Zondi, an allegation which Luzulane denied.

In summing up the evidence, magistrate Davis said most of the money was used to purchase “luxury items” from the local Donnybrook Spar.

The money was spent on catering, sound equipment and tent hire.

Luzulane’s personal assistant, Lindiwe Zuma, testified that after a meeting between her boss and the municipal manager, she had been given a list of names of needy people, but the relevant documentation was not attached.

She said she filled out a requisition, which was approved by the municipal manager, and she sent the order form to the Spar.

The families would ordinarily collect their parcels from the Spar, but she was instructed by the municipal manager and the mayor to collect the parcels.

When she arrived, Luzulane was there in the company of a local caterer who was doing the shopping.

The bags were placed in Luzulane’s car.

Another witness, Bonisiwe Nkandi, testified that the mayor had asked her to arrange for a tent and sound system for the funeral, which was taking place on April 21 2012 and that the funeral “was for the brother of the accused’s boyfriend”.

The caterer died before the trial commenced.

But a statement she gave to police was handed in as evidence.

She said Luzulane had asked her to quote for catering for 500 people at R100 a person for a funeral.

She was told to send her invoice with “Operation Mbo” in the heading.

In convicting Luzulane, Davis said “her footprint was everywhere” and rejected her political conspiracy argument as being false.

Sentencing her on Thursday, he noted that she was well educated, with a Bachelor of Social Sciences degree and was presently enrolled for a master’s degree.

He said she was the leader of the council responsible for governance of the municipality for the benefit of all its wards.

Instead, she had committed fraud and was guilty of maladministration.

A probation officer detailed a victim statement made by a Mr Vezi, the municipal manager of the Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma municipality, which incorporated the Ingwe municipality.

He pointed to the fact that Luzulane was in a position of trust.

He asked for a sentence that would “send a strong message to the public and employees of the municipality that crime does not pay, and when apprehended you will be punished”.

“Of glaring significance in the probation officer’s report, is the absence of the role played by the accused, the significance of her position as mayor and the person ultimately responsible for Operation Mbo,” Davis said.

“The omission of these most important aspects greatly affects the reliability of the report.”

Luzulane’s fraud had effectively deprived 141 households of urgent assistance in the form of food parcels, instead of complying with her constitutional duties and obligations.

Luzulane’s attorney submitted that she was now an educator and in the 11 years or so since the offence, there were no indications that she had committed further crime.

She had not enriched herself but had used the money to pay for a one-off funeral. The low risk of reoffending suggested that correctional supervision might be an appropriate sentence, he submitted.

Adv Ashika Luckan, for the state, however, argued that the offences were so serious “only imprisonment was appropriate” given the prevalence of fraud and corruption.

Davis said an aggravating feature was that she had stolen money from the most vulnerable and the Constitutional Court had regularly stated that this type of conduct by elected political leaders was unconscionable.

“Whereas the amounts involved are not high compared to those regularly seen in the specialised commercial crime courts, it is not inconsequential.

“A non-custodial sentence is inappropriate ... In serious cases such as this, the personal circumstances of the accused must yield to the seriousness of the offence and the interests of society as a whole,” Davis said.

He sentenced Luzulane to seven years (two suspended for five years) for the fraud and three years for the contraventions of the MFMA, ordering that the sentences run concurrently.

This means that the effective sentence is one of five years.

Luzulane began serving her sentence on Thursday, but there are indications she might still apply for leave to appeal the sentence and for bail, pending the outcome of that appeal.


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