/ 5 July 2023

Umgeni Water executive gunned down days before merger

Unless our failing policing institution is resuscitated, people’s mindsets will permanently shift to protecting oneself and loved ones.

Umgeni Water Board infrastructure executive Xolani Chamane was gunned down in Durban in an apparent hit last Thursday night, days before the troubled entity’s merger with Mhlathuze Water to form a single provincial water utility.

Chamane, 39, was shot several times in the head at a petrol station in Westville while seated in his car in what a number of sources at Umgeni Water Board say is believed to be an assassination. Police said they were investigating the murder, which was carried out by an unknown number of suspects.

“Reports indicate that the deceased had gunshot wounds to the face and was declared dead on scene,” police spokesperson Constable Thenjiwe Ngcobo said.

Several sources at the troubled water entity said Chamane was among the Umgeni staff interviewed by the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (the Hawks) after the murder of eThekwini ward 99 councillor Mnqobi Molfe in September last year.

Molefe was shot dead — allegedly by two police officers — weeks after being threatened at a meeting held to discuss a dispute between two business forums and Umgeni Water over involvement in its R4.7 billion uMkhomazi bulk water scheme, which is currently under construction.

Chamane was among the Umgeni staff who were present when Molefe was threatened at the meeting — and was questioned about this when the Hawks visited Umgeni’s Pietermaritzburg headquarters in the weeks after he was shot dead.

“Xolani and an admin staff member who was also in the meeting were both called when the Hawks came here,” one staff member, who asked not to be named, told the Mail & Guardian this week. “They were also looking for a recording of the meeting and the attendance lists.”

In May, Mayendran Chetty and Thanduxolo Phelago appeared in court in Margate in connection with the murder of Molefe and another man, Zita Cele. 

The two police officers are also charged with the earlier killing of two of Molefe’s associates, Mlungisi Buthelezi and Hlonipho Nzimande, in separate assassinations last year. They are awaiting trial after abandoning a bail application.

The murders of Chamane and Molefe are not the only killings of individuals associated with contested or controversial contracts at Umgeni Water.

In January 2021, Sibonelo Shinga, the owner of Raminet Technologies and MPS Strategic Solutions, was shot dead in Durban.

The Special Investigating Unit (SIU) looked into Raminet during its first investigation into information technology contracts, while MPS is one of those under investigation in terms of the recent proclamation by President Cyril Ramaphosa.

The merger between Umgeni and Mhlathuze took effect from 1 July, with a new board appointed by Water and Sanitation Minister Senzo Mchunu, put in place to oversee the running of the new entity, uMgeni-uThukela Water.

Mchunu fired the boards of both entities earlier this year, with the outgoing Umgeni board approaching the high court to have his decision set aside.

The matter is still to be heard.

Both Umgeni and Mhlathuze have battled with corporate governance, with the SIU presently carrying out a second probe into procurement at Umgeni, which racked up R2 billion in unauthorised or irregular expenditure over the past two financial years.

Last week 14 accused — including three Mhlathuze Water board members — appeared in court on fraud and corruption charges related to R37 million paid to legal firms during the Covid-19 lockdown for services they never rendered.