Tshwane Mayor Stephens Mokgalapa and officials from his office are on a paid-for junket to China to view smart cities, courtesy of technology giant Huawei, mayoral spokesperson Omogolo Taunyane confirmed to News24 on Monday.
She said the visit was "linked to the City's strategic objective to grow the economy by positioning itself as an IT development hub".
Documents seen by News24 show that Mokgalapa and his delegation left for China on Saturday, July 27. The delegation includes the Tshwane divisional head for private office and ceremonial services, Norman Mohale; MMC for Corporate and Shared Services Richard Moheta; MMC for Health Derrick Kissoonduth; and the group head for shared services, Musa Khumalo.
They are expected to return on August 3.
Flights, accommodation, and ground transport for the trip are being covered by Huawei, while the City will fork out R120 543,80 for "subsistence and contingency fees" for the officials.
President Cyril Ramaphosa put forward the idea of building smart cities in South Africa, inspired by the Chinese, in his State of the Nation Address in June.
The president also openly backed Huawei, in the midst of the spat between the United States and China over the technology company, when he addressed the Fourth Industrial Revolution Summit in Johannesburg in July.
He made similar remarks on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Osaka in June.
The US temporarily blacklisted Huawei over national security concerns, amidst allegations that the technology was being used by the Chinese government to spy on the West. Those trade restrictions were eased as part of a trade truce between the two leading world economies last month.
Ramaphosa's son, Andile, and corruption-accused company Bosasa previously had plans to invest in smart city technology in Africa, along with another tech giant, Dahua, but the plan was aborted, News24 reported in March.
A report compiled by the Office of the (Tshwane) Executive Mayor seeking approval for the trip, seen by News24, sets out the details of the Huawei junket.
The itinerary for the jaunt includes visits to the Huawei smart city demo sites at Longgeng and Shanghai, as well as visits to the sprawling Huawei headquarters in Shenzhen. The delegation will also visit a Huawei manufacturing centre and something called the "Huawei Beijing Experience Centre".
The document states that the trip will have to be declared to National Treasury and the Gauteng Treasury. This is in line with the Municipal Finance Management Act, which says that any trips or sponsorships offered by a provider, or prospective provider of goods and services to the municipality, must be reported.
The document does not elaborate on whether Huawei is a current service provider of the municipality or whether it will be one in the future.
The trip also had to be justified because of a moratorium on international travel imposed by former mayor Solly Msimanga in August 2016 as a cost-cutting measure, which meant that all international trips undertaken by City officials had to be subjected to a cost-benefit analysis by the mayoral committee in Council.
The mayor's office report also notes the Municipal Finance Management Act says that international travel must be limited to events and meetings that are "considered critical".
Part of the justification for the trip, as per the report from the mayoral office, under the heading "background", reads: "Huawei has launched an overall Smart City architecture that consists of one cloud, two networks, and three platforms to build the nervous systems for cities... It capitalises on new ICT technologies to address city problems... "
It is a copy-and-paste quote from Huawei's letter of invitation to the City's officials, also seen by News24.
Ultimately, it was decided that the trip was justified and it was approved by the relevant municipal authorities.
'Top managers sit in luxury'
Meanwhile, Mokgalapa leaves behind a deeply unhappy city: bus drivers blockaded roads in Tshwane on Monday morning over a wage dispute, gridlocking traffic and preventing movement in and out of the Tshwane CBD.
At the heart of the dispute between the South African Municipal Workers Union (Samwu) is the upgrading of the municipality's ranking in terms of the Municipal Structures Act, from a Category 9 to a Category 10 municipality. Because of this upgrade, the municipality is allowed to pay its staff more.
But this applies only to group heads and divisional heads permanently employed at the municipality, Samwu said in a statement. The union wants the salary upgrades to apply to all workers.
"We cannot afford a situation where top managers sit in luxury and pay themselves exorbitant amounts of money while the struggling majority are being taken for granted," the union said in a statement.