Deals and death in North West

On the eve of the local government elections secret internal ANC and municipal documents obtained by the Mail & Guardian have opened a window on corruption in a major municipality—Rustenburg in North West.

The documents also show desperate attempts by local ANC structures to blow the whistle to the party and how these attempts may have cost Rustenburg councillor Moss Phakoe his life.

Phakoe was gunned down in March 2009, two days after meeting Cooperative Governance Minister Sicelo Shiceka and handing over a dossier of allegations against office bearers and officials in the Bojanala District Municipality, which includes Rustenburg and Brits.

One document, marked “secret”, is addressed to the Bojanala regional task team, which was part of a special provincial task group set up by the ANC’s national executive committee to deal with internal conflict and service delivery problems in the North West.

The document, understood to have been drafted in 2009 by ANC intelligence operatives deployed to the province, is a devastating assessment of the state of governance in the Rustenburg council.

It notes: “Various law enforcement agencies . have been inundated with reports and complaints of rampant acts of corruption within the Rustenburg local municipality. The complaints relate to the inappropriate handling of tender processes, shabby and undeclared interests in such by council officials and or councillors .

“The nature of the complaints illustrates that organised crime is prevalent . Criminals [and] corrupters have access and an upper hand over administrative procurement procedures and officials and are able to influence decisions on the basis of blackmail, bribes and extortion.

“They are able to switch their . operations, benefiting from small and major contracts in directorates where officials are easily corrupted, blackmailed or issued with unlawful instructions by their respective political or criminal principals to award tenders in favour of their principals’ preferred bidders.”

The document appears to have been drafted before Phakoe’s murder, but reflects many of his concerns. It reveals that the police were investigating a number of cases, including alleged corruption in relation to the outsourcing of the Rustenburg Kloof Holiday Resort and Conference Centre.

The Rustenburg Kloof deal was one of the major concerns raised by Phakoe in his meeting with Shiceka, according to information obtained by the M&G from concerned local ANC members, who asked not to be identified.

Bitter rivalry

They said the contract was one of the key issues that had fanned the bitter rivalry between councillors in the municipality and the executive mayor at the time, Matthew Wolmarans.

It seems that Phakoe drafted a report suggesting that Wolmarans, who chaired the committee responsible for recommending the successful bidder, had interests in the deal. It was this report that Phakoe handed to Shiceka—and it may have played a role in the ANC.s eventual removal of Wolmarans as mayor in February last year.

Wolmarans has denied having any interest in the Rustenburg Kloof bid, which was awarded to a company called Omaramba. But one of the key players in Omaramba, North West businessman Oupa Mphomane, told the M&G that they were friends who had grown up together, although he denied they had a business relationship.

“The councillors fighting with Wolmarans are behind these claims. I have always supported Wolmarans through funding for his political campaigns. As a businessman and an active member of the ANC I support the organisation ... I funded the provincial conference and about 3 000 people, including the MEC and ministers, came, ate and drank for free at the Kloof at the afterparty celebration,” Mphomane said.

At the ANC provincial conference earlier this year Wolmarans made a political comeback, returning as a provincial executive committee member.

Phakoe’s Kloof report, which the M&G has seen, describes how an independent company appointed to evaluate the bids recommended another company, but says this advice was overturned by the committee chaired by Wolmarans, which recommended Omaramba despite its lower score.

According to the Phakoe report, one of the shareholders in Omaramba was Silvia Moeng, Wolmarans’s sister-in-law, although this shareholding was later distributed among other shareholders.

Mphomane told the M&G: “I had a disagreement with my business partner because he proposed to hold a percentage of shares for his employee, Moeng, who never came to board meetings. We discussed it and agreed to share the stake among ourselves.”

Rumours

Wolmarans said this week that he knew about the allegations but that they had never been presented to him formally.

“I have only heard of rumours . people asking me about tenders and my relationship with Mphomane. It is not true that I had interest in any of the tenders and I had already moved from the committee to do special projects when the Rustenburg Kloof deal was finalised. Those allegations were made by disgruntled councillors.”

He confirmed that Moeng was his sister-in-law but denied that he had any knowledge of her involvement in Omaramba.

“I didn.t know that she was a shareholder. I know that Mphomane is a co-owner of the business. I know Mphomane, but I don.t have any business relationship with him.”

However, company records show that Wolmarans is a director of a shelf company with Mphomane. The company, Mega Works Trading Enterprise 171, was registered last year.

Local ANC members hostile to Wolmarans are understood to have sent a document to senior provincial and national ANC leaders arguing that Phakoe’s corruption allegations should be considered a motive for his murder.

It appears that the police have taken this claim seriously. The M&G has confirmed that investigators obtained surveillance tapes from a garage where Mphomane and Wolmarans had a meeting a week before the murder.

Whispers

Mphomane dismissed suggestions of his involvement, saying they were part of a “whispering campaign” against him.

He confirmed that the police had questioned him about his meeting with Wolmarans at the garage as well as about Phakoe’s murder.

He explained that the two were on their way to another meeting and had met at the garage to share a vehicle.

Responding to questions about the videotapes showing that he was armed, Mphomane was forthright: “I.m a businessman; I always have my guns for protection.”

The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism, supported by M&G Media and the Open Society Foundation for South Africa, produced this story. All views are the centre.s. www.amabhungane.co.za.

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