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Dihlabeng loses out in land ‘blunder’

The Dihlabeng local municipality has sold off land worth more than R60-million since 2018, yet has not received a cent from those sales. Many officials in the Free State municipality have raised red flags, saying the process of selling the land in various areas near Bethlehem has been marred by irregularities. But the municipality says no such irregularities exist. 

Two years ago the municipality advertised requests for proposals for about two dozen pockets of land. In July 2018 it sent letters to companies confirming their bids to purchase land had been approved. Six months later, in January 2019, another batch was sent. 

One source in the municipality said the process had not involved a full bid adjudication committee and instead was run and concluded by a select few individuals in the local economic development department. 

“The process is quite simple and straightforward. You have to have a full bid evaluation committee and bid adjudication committee. This was not done,” said the source. “All the appointment letters were also issued three months after the validity period and that should automatically make the appointments null and void or illegal.” 

This is not the first time the municipality has been asked about the irregular use of state land. In July the Mail & Guardian reported on how mayor Lindiwe Makhalema’s relatives and friends have benefited from getting tenders, jobs and a farm that they could use as their own. 

The M&G investigation into a raft of allegations against Makhalema suggested the mayor’s family has been using farmland bought by the state to ensure the people who had been living there for decades would not be evicted. 

The 1 700 hectares of Zandvallei Slabbert farm is about 10km from Bethlehem. 

Tracking down the companies that were awarded the two dozen land bids show a puzzling picture. 

Maseru Mpathi, a businessman in Dihlabeng, was the biggest winner, having been awarded land worth about R50-million. But the entity connected to him that won the bid is not registered. 

In the letter dated 8 January 2019, addressed to Mafatshe Consortium, the then acting municipal manager congratulated the company for its successful bid. 

The only Mafatshe Consortium registered is undergoing deregistration and two of its directors were baffled when they were asked about the land sale. The M&G discovered that Mpathi is involved through the address on his award letter. 

Mpathi did not respond to numerous attempts to clarify this. 

Municipality spokesperson Tshediso Maitse said Mafatshe Consortium is an unincorporated consortium in which various entities have pooled their resources.

Documents show that Mafatshe Consortium was approved to purchase land, costing R3.7-million, to build a shopping mall. The second piece of land, which includes 204 erven, was bought for R46-million to build houses. 

Sources in the municipality said payments have not been made for the two tracts of land. 

A vehicle hire company, Mothebe Shuttle Services, owned by Dorothy and David Mothibe, was awarded R4.7-million worth of land, according to a letter dated July 2018. 

“The selling of portion of the farm Pretoriuskloof 152 [in] Bethlehem for developing a tourism centre consisting of a fast food outlet, craft centre, restaurant, play park or business at a purchase price of R2 700 000.00,” reads the letter congratulating them.

Dorothy Mothibe said she did not know anything about the business and referred the M&G to her husband, who, for two weeks, has failed to respond to questions about his company’s expertise and his relationship with the municipality. 

The purchasing price has also not been paid to the municipality.

A second source said these “blunders” expose that the municipality did not exercise due diligence.

Another company, TVN Transport, was sold a portion of a farm for R1.8-million to build a truck stop with a petrol station, inclusive of a convenience store, entertainment centre, bank facilities and a one-stop car service park.

Maitse said: “Winning bidders were given a certain period of time within which to make full payments and failure to which the offer will automatically be withdrawn. The period has not yet lapsed.”

But insiders said no time period was stated in the award letters. 

The M&G contacted two other companies that won their bids. 

Zimport was awarded land worth R1.8-million. But, according to the director, Mokoti Zim, the land is still demarcated farmland and the municipality has not conducted a study as yet.

Nqole Arthur, who owns Manna Holdings, said he has not paid the R1.9-million to the municipality because the municipality has failed to zone the area for a shopping mall. Maitse now says that zoning is the responsibility of the buyer. 

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Athandiwe Saba
Athandiwe Saba

Athandiwe Saba is a multi award-winning journalist who is passionate about data, human interest issues, governance and everything that isn’t on social media. She is an author, an avid reader and trying to find the answer to the perfect balance between investigative journalism, online audiences and the decline in newspaper sales. It’s a rough world and a rewarding profession.

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