E. Cape MEC orders graft probe after two workers are killed at troubled district municipality

The Eastern Cape provincial government has instituted a forensic investigation into the Amathole district municipality amid allegations of killings of workers who have blown the whistle on corruption and maladministration in the embattled council.

Simmering tensions between unions and the council’s top administrators have burst into the open, and the South African Municipal Workers’ Union (Samwu) has declared “war” on allegedly corrupt senior officials in the municipality.   

“Without fear or favour we are saying this must come to an end,” a Samwu member said of the corruption crippling the council. 

“As Samwu we have protested after we heard of allegations of corruption against the municipal manager. This was after this financially struggling municipality managed to buy the mayor a R1.3-million car. We were asking [ourselves], ‘How that is possible?,” they said.

The worker was speaking on the condition of anonymity, because the union believes workers who have spoken up about the corruption have paid for this with their lives. “Now we discover these recent killings targeting workers … Especially those who are in the frontline dealing with money.” 

Makhaya Komisa, the spokesperson for co-operative governance and traditional affairs (Cogta) MEC, Xolile Nqatha, said the MEC for Cogta had approved a forensic investigation into goings on at the municipality. 

“We have already identified a service provider that will do a thorough forensic investigation into Amathole municipality, because since last year we have had whistle-blowers approaching us telling us about maladministration, fraud and corruption within the municipality,” Komisa said.

“On the killings, as Cogta we say the police must do their work speedily and thoroughly investigate. They must make arrests on those implicated. It is sad to have workers being killed like this,” he added.

Recorded threats

Workers have also linked a recording of Amathole municipal manager Thandekile Mnyimba, who was addressing workers during a strategic-planning retreat, to the killings.

In the recording, which is being shared over WhatApp, Mnyimba says: “There are some people we cannot live with. There is a list of those we already know; we must be sure that the list is complete. “Then siza banco thula’ neengcambu [we will take them off with their roots]. Don’t blame Majola [a municipality employee] for anything that happens; he only acts on my instructions.”

Mnyimba continues: “For the past two years, things have been happening but I pretended like I did not see anything because I considered that these individuals have wives and children … We are going to be decisive in all directorates. Like an elephant If you do bad to me, I do it two or three times more to you. That’s how I am, I’m an elephant. When we do these things, we must know every action has a consequence.”

Amathole district municipality spokesperson Nonceba Madikizela-Vuso downplayed the recording, saying Mnyimba was merely addressing workers and not threatening anyone. “It is unfortunate that the clip was purposefully cut … by disgruntled employees, as the full version would be clear for anyone listening to it that the the municipal manager was merely indicating that management is aware of clear and constant sabotage by employees who do not want to see it accomplish fully its five-year municipal turnaround strategy,” said Madikizela.

The R600-million toilet tender

In 2015 the council garnered national attention after it awarded a R600-million tender to erect toilets in villages across the district to the Siyenza Group, a company that was not registered with the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission and did not possess a Construction Industry Development Board grading. 

A Hawks investigation found that R286-million was paid to Siyenza, and that this money was circulated to politically connected individuals.

In November the Hawks arrested 10 people — including businessmen and municipality employees — on charges of fraud, corruption and money-laundering related to the project. These included Siyenza owners Bongani Mpeluza and Vuyani Gaga, as well as former Amathole municipal manager Chris Magwangqana.

They appeared at the East London magistrates court on November 22 last year, and were released on bail ranging from R10 000 and R 40 000. The matter will be before the courts again on April 24.

Office raid

Two weeks ago, police in the province raided the municipality’s offices in East London, shortly after the killing of whistle-blower Simphiwe Mdingi, who was gunned down assassin-style outside his Amalinda, East London home on January 29. 

Police spokesperson Brigadier Tembinkosi Kinana told the M&G they were probing suspected corruption at the municipality, and that no arrests have yet been made. Kinana added that police are also looking into Mdingi’s murder, but had not made any link between that and corruption at the municipality.

“Investigations into the recent incident of murder are still at a very sensitive stage and for this reason this office is not at liberty to offer any further details regarding the specifics of the case. No arrests have been made as yet,” he said. 

Mdingi is the second Amathole district municipality employee to be killed. His death follows the killing of union leader Thandile Mbono, who was also shot in mid-January.

Madikizela added that the recent raids were instigated by information that the Hawks received from a whistle-blower.

Madikizela said the municipality supported investigations by law-enforcement agencies to “ensure clean governance”.

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Chris Gilili
Chris Gilili is an Open Society Fellow in Investigative Reporting at Wits University. Currently spending six months with the Mail and Guardian in the Investigations desk. He started journalism with Independent Media’s vernacular publication, I’solezwe LesiXhosa in East London. He has freelanced for publications such as GroundUp and Workers World Media.

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