Although at least two Durban North residents have had their lights cut off without any notice or negotiations, it took the eThekwini municipality three years to disconnect electricity at the eThekwini Community Church run by ANC MPL Pastor Vusi Dube.
Durban ratepayer organisations are outraged by the municipality’s failure to act decisively and evict the flamboyant pastor from Albert Park, where his church is run from a tent. They say Dube was given preferential treatment by the municipality.
The church’s attorney, Mandla Mngomezulu, hit back. “Albert Park residents have benefited immensely from the church, and we are involved in many community outreach programmes, but we have been treated unfairly in return,” he said.
Mngomezulu said the municipality’s actions were a disgrace and the court application was an unnecessary abuse of ratepayers’ money.
“Our lines of communication are open… We feel that the matter could have been handled differently,” he said.
In August 2011, the city cut off the electricity to Dube’s church. The municipality’s revenue department later said Dube had racked up a bill of R13 049.26 since 2008. Dube, however, questioned how the bill, which the council had previously said was R9 000, had escalated by R4 000.
The move came after the matter was referred to the municipal public accounts committee for investigation by DA caucus leader and member of the executive committee Tex Collins, who said no “definitive action” had been taken since he had raised the issue of the church with former municipal manager Michael Sutcliffe in 2011.
Collins said Dube enjoyed a “disproportionate degree of political patronage, was using council resources illegally, and had been allowed to operate with impunity for three years”.
Dudley Reid of Durban North said his electricity was cut off for a matter of R600, which was not an unpaid amount but the increase to his deposit about which he had not been told.
He said the city “very quickly” cut off his electricity and, unlike Dube, did not allow him to run up a bill of R13 000, despite his having paid a hefty deposit of R2 900.
Similarly, Brett Channel, also of Durban North, said his electricity was cut off for an amount of R200 outstanding, despite his having paid a deposit of R2 900.
“Where is the justice? The city should apply the same rules and regulations to all its citizens,” he said.
Lilian Develing, of the Combined Ratepayers’ Association, said it was clear that there was an unequal application of the law for those who were politically connected.
“I received complaints back in 2008 from Albert Park residents that the church was creating a nuisance. I wrote letters to Mike Sutcliffe and he said he would look into the matter, but nothing was done,” she said.
North Durban Ratepayers chairwoman Irene Reid said everyone should be treated in the same manner, under the same laws, without bias or favouritism.
She said there had been many instances of a “different strokes for different folks” attitude within the council.
“My frustration is also regarding the many pensioners in Durban North who worked hard, contributed in rates and taxes to the council’s and the country’s coffers for many years... They have their lights and water cut off for a paltry sum outstanding. They are not allowed to run up a bill of R13 000. Where is the justice in our system?” she asked.
Reid also questioned why Dube’s bill was so low, and at what rate he was being supplied electricity.
In February, the municipality instituted legal proceedings to evict Dube from the church’s Albert Park site, and earlier this month Dube’s legal team filed a notice of intention to defend the eviction.
The matter has not been heard in court yet. - The Mercury