Death of City Power procurement specialist silences staff members

For more than a year, death threats and the intimidation of whistle-blowers at City Power have kept a lid on the circumstances surrounding the murder of a procurement specialist, Oupa Matlaba (40).

He was shot and killed on Novem­ber 22 2011 while he sat in his car in his driveway, a few days after he allegedly blew the whistle on fraud and corruption related to multimillion-rand tenders at the utility.

Revelations about his death come two weeks after the Mail & Guardian reported that a R1.25-billion smart metering contract by City Power was manipulated to benefit a controversial Durban businessperson and a key backer of President Jacob Zuma, Vivian Reddy, and his company Edison Power.

Public protector Thuli Madonsela has agreed to investigate the deal following a request by the DA.  

The timing of Matlaba's murder suggests that it was unconnected to the smart meter tender, which was awarded only a year later.

Details of why Matlaba was killed remain a mystery, although the police said this week they were still investigating the case and following several leads.

Despite the climate of fear at City Power, several employees spoke about Matlaba's last days at work, albeit on condition of anonymity, for fear of reprisals.

Information about tenders
"We don't know why he was murdered, but that's why everyone here was scared to talk to the M&G about the smart meter tender," one said.

"Before his death, he had gone to a union representative at City Power and divulged some information about tenders. After that, some union leaders went around with 24-hour bodyguards. The detective [name withheld] who first investigated the case also got death threats. They threatened his wife and he stepped aside."

The police spokesperson, Lungelo Dlamini, was asked about the allegations and whether they had followed up, but he declined to answer on them directly. He said that the investigation involving the detective had been closed and was unrelated to Matlaba's death.

"Investigation on the case is still continuing. At this stage no suspect has been identified and several leads are still being followed. The case was transferred to a senior investigating officer in order that it can get more attention and to follow up more sensitive information that may lead to the identification of the suspect or suspects.

"An intimidation case against the previous investigating officer's wife is not linked to the continuing investigation. It is a matter that was being investigated separately and it has been closed as undetected, meaning no one was identified as the suspect," Dlamini said.

City Power declined to answer specific questions about Matlaba.

"City Power is co-operating with the South African Police Service on this case and due process is currently being followed with the relevant authorities. City Power and its executive management will continue to co-operate fully with all law enforcement agencies on this matter. As City Power, we are committed to our zero tolerance approach on corruption and fully subscribe to the stipulations in the Municipal Finance Management Act. We will continue to implement and improve controls which govern our integrity and ethical conduct," Solomon Masolo, City Power's spokesperson, said.

Matlaba's family has refused to comment for fear of being harassed or intimidated.

Attempts to speak to union shop stewards, including those from the South African Municipal Workers' Union, on the record were also rebuffed.

Someone who knew Matlaba very well said that, a few days before he was killed, he complained about two senior managers at supply-chain management who had apparently made his life unbearable.

In October 2011, a month before he was murdered, Matlaba faced disciplinary hearings, apparently to silence him.

The M&G has seen Matlaba's diary, in which he wrote about people who were allegedly "troubling" him at work. He had also asked God for protection from his enemies.

In a diary entry, addressed to the "Rivers of Living Waters Ministries", Matlaba wrote: "To be acquitted from the snares that the enemy [names withheld] has set for me. Let them be tested, trialled and be found guilty. I request the verdict of not guilty on the 03 October 2011 as I am. Victory! Victory! Victory! [I also ask] God to increase my territory in terms of my career and talent so that I can glorify him beautifully. May the Almighty grant me the protection due to me (where I am or wherever he wishes so) that I may be able to give back more. A meaningful, honest, faithful relationship with the one I love [name withheld] based on Christian principles."

Principled trade union member
The source said it was possible that he might have come across information about a mega-tender that was awarded irregularly and was in the process of blowing the whistle on it.

"The supply chain at City Power is divided in half. There is the production side, that is the mega-tenders for power lines, switchgear, smart meters. Oupa was not on this side. He worked for non-production procurement, that is stationery, uniforms, recruitment and housing, et cetera.

"So it may be that he was not murdered for blowing the whistle on a mega-tender; but, equally possibly, he could have blown the whistle on a big tender he knew about even if he wasn't directly involved in it. The supply chain guys do the paperwork for the tenders, but they don't evaluate or adjudicate or take decisions about the award," the source said.

"We're told by investigators that his murder had something to do with tenders. Matlaba was a principled trade union member and he was not the type of person you could bribe. He was also outspoken and stubborn. He knew too much about tender irregularities and it pained him that nothing was being done.

"People are worried about who's going to be next on the hit list. We are also concerned that there is no breakthrough in his murder. There is no protection from the police. If you know too much, like Oupa, you're intimidated."

Meanwhile, the M&G has been told that, during a meeting last week at the City Power offices in Booysens, south of Johannesburg, employees called for a forensic audit to be carried out in order to highlight tender irregularities at the utility.

The meeting also called for City Power's managing director, Sicelo Xulu, to step down because he had been unable to "sufficiently account for money wasted on consultancy fees, recruitment and selection processes, and tender irregularities".

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Charles Molele
Guest Author

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