A worker had to die and several others be injured for the rest of South Africa to wake up to the alleged cronyism and tender manipulation that has infected Durban’s eThekwini municipality over many years.
The media, opposition politicians, activists and residents in KwaZulu-Natal have often raised the alarm about a small coterie of politically connected businesspeople who appear to have a monopoly on lucrative municipal tenders, particularly housing and other construction contracts in the city. Yet little has been done about this, despite a commitment to clean governance by successive municipal administrations.
Was it a surprise that a half-built shopping mall collapsed in Tongaat? No. Could it have been avoided? Yes. Could it happen again? Probably. Should heads roll? Absolutely.
As the blame game goes into overdrive, the eThekwini municipality has pointed fingers at controversial tender tycoon Daniel Jagadasen, alias Jay Singh. According to local reports, Singh paid R4000 to a Durban municipal official in 1997 to pass condemned work. He pleaded guilty to the bribery charge and paid a R6000 fine. He soon rose to become one of Durban’s controversial tender kings. Among other things, his companies were accused of building shoddy low-income houses, yet Singh and his family continued to win lucrative contracts.
The rot may have set in during the city’s previous administration, as documented in the Manase Report, but this does not explain why it is allowed to continue today. The fact that Singh is a known ANC benefactor, donating to the party’s local coffers, and his wife, Shireen Annamalay, is reportedly a former associate of President Jacob Zuma’s wife, Nompumelo Ntuli, may hold some clues – but it is not the whole story.
The real story is how business and municipal officials and politicians in eThekwini have been allowed to collude with each other, at the expense of the poor, and have got away with it for so many years. It is a story that is not unique to Durban or KwaZulu-Natal. It's a story that should be fully told, sparing no one, and there should not be a happy ending for the villains.