/ 8 September 2017

Corruption tied to political killings

Umzimkhulu councillors live in fear after the deaths of at least three people
Umzimkhulu councillors live in fear after the deaths of at least three people

A move to uncover alleged corruption involving a municipal tender at Umzimkhulu that ballooned from R4-million to R37-million may be behind the death of former ANC Youth League secretary general Sindiso Magaqa.

An ANC councillor of the Umzimkhulu local municipality, late last year he had passed on documentation that allegedly proved the corruption to the Hawks. In July, he and ANC councillors Nontsikelelo Mafa and Jabu Maziya were wounded in an ambush. Magaqa, who had appeared to be recovering, died on Monday.

Thabiso Zulu, a close comrade of Magaqa, says Magaqa gave him documentation allegedly proving corruption in the tender for upgrading the Umzimkhulu Memorial Hall. Contractors involved in the upgrade, which has still not been completed, were paid before starting work, with the cost spiralling to R37-million.

“I can confirm that Sindiso gave me the documents after repeatedly raising [questions about] the contract in the municipality. I did what he asked me to do and passed them on to the Hawks, the anti-corruption task team.

“The documents allegedly proved corruption and overpricing in the contract. We were pushing ahead with the investigation, sending emails and following up with the relevant people,” Zulu said.

“I don’t want to create a situation where police focus on one issue. He was a politician. He had enemies, but this is one of the key issues he was working on. I have given the documents to everybody who could possibly do something.”

Magaqa had returned to ANC politics after serving a one-year suspension imposed in 2012 at a disciplinary hearing at which then youth league president Julius Malema was expelled. He was deployed as a proportional representation councillor last year.

Magaqa’s death follows that of speaker and ANC deputy regional secretary Khaya Thobela, who died in a hail of bullets in April. Mduduzi Shibase, earmarked to take over as speaker from Thobela, was gunned down two weeks later. Both had been involved in investigating the contract at council level.

“Sindiso believed the way to stop the assassins was to arrest the flow of money being used to pay the killers. If you stop the illegal flow of money and corruption, you also then get to stopping the things that are being done with the money,” Zulu said.

Zulu, who served with Magaqa in the league and later in the ANC in the Harry Gwala region, under which Umzimkhulu falls, said he felt obligated to make the information public.

“I owe it to Sindiso to make this public. I have been saying two things to every investigator — expedite the corruption cases that have been reported to the Hawks here since 2016 and look at the role of crime intelligence in factional ANC politics in this area,” Zulu said.

Democratic Alliance councillor Hlanganani Lukhozi said the upgrading of the hall had been a burning issue at council.

“The contractor was paid before doing the job. The hall has been built and destroyed and then rebuilt. They said the first contractor had failed to build it properly. We are told it will still take another 18 months, but the actual work was meant to have been done from 2015,” Lukhozi said.

He said Magaqa had been vocal about the contract and the discovery of nearly 80 ghost employees in the Harry Gwala District Municipality.

Lukhozi, who was kidnapped, drugged and dumped in Pietermaritzburg last year, said he and other councillors feared for their lives.

“There have been three ANC councillors killed here. It will not end there. Even we as opposition councillors are not safe,” he said.

On Friday night, ANC subregional treasurer Dumisani Dlamini was gunned down at Ixopo, which falls under the same ANC region. It is not clear at this stage whether the shooting is related to the ongoing killings in the region. Police spokesperson Brigadier Jay Naicker referred questions to the Hawks for comment.

The tensions in the area were evident this week when the ANC leadership visited Magaqa’s home. Local residents prevented Umzimkhulu mayor Mphuthumi Mpabanga, municipal manager Mzweliphansi Skosana and ANC provincial deputy secretary Mluleki Ndobe from entering the house.

An ANC member from Umzimkhulu, who asked not to be named, said Magaqa had intended to stand for a position at the regional conference later this year.

The region is split between ANC treasurer general Zweli Mkhize and former African Union Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

“Sindiso had been lobbied to stand. He was going to contest the post of regional deputy secretary,” he said.

Speaking in Johannesburg on Thursday about the political killings in the province, Mkhize said his suspicion was that “quite a lot of criminal elements might have embedded themselves within the close proximity of business, administration, political leadership”.

“And there they begin to act on people without the proper structures of the ANC being aware, and that for me is something that needs to be nipped in the bud. You cannot have in any of our institutions these kind of mafia operations.”

ANC provincial secretary Super Zuma said on Thursday that two teams had been set up to investigate the cause of the killings and to encourage tolerance.

He said the ANC would appear before the Moerane commission of inquiry into political killings and provide it with “our interpretation and analysis on the current killings of our people”.

Zuma disputed the claim by Malema on Wednesday that Magaqa had been on the verge of joining the EFF.

Malema said: “I told him many times to leave the ANC to come and be the national organiser of the EFF because I knew he loved the ground, I knew he loved working with ordinary people on the ground.

“He agreed with me and he said, ‘Let me go and speak to my wife [and] my mother. This is done, I’m coming.’ I was still waiting for him and this happened.

“I would have saved his life, I had a duty to save his life.”

But Zuma said Magaqa had “refused several times to leave the ANC, even when a carrot of a big position was dangled before him”.

Hawks spokesperson Hangwani Mulaudzi said a case of murder would be opened. The Hawks issued identikits of two suspects in July. “We are still after those suspects. Investigations continue,” Mulaudzi said.

Co-operative governance and traditional affairs spokesperson Lennox Mabaso did not respond to queries. — Additional reporting by Govan Whittles and agencies