Eastern Cape premier Mabuyane lives large amid province’s poverty

The Eastern Cape premier and his government colleagues have been accused of misusing state funds for personal gain in a province marked by dilapidated houses, pit latrines and high levels of poverty. 

The Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (the Hawks) has confirmed that it believes Premier Oscar Mabuyane should face criminal prosecution for alleged fraud and corruption after the unit concluded its almost two-year graft investigation into how he and the Eastern Cape head of public works, Babalo Madikizela, allegedly benefited from a portion of the R3.3-million in state funds made available for the commemoration of struggle icon Winnie Madikizela-Mandela in 2018.

The allegations, contained in a report released on 10 October by the public protector, are particularly galling in a province with the third-highest number of indigent households in South Africa. More than 645 000 families live below the R3 560 a month poverty barrier. 

Pit latrines in Govan Mbeki informal settlement. (Photo Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)

Residents speak about dire service delivery, particularly in the Buffalo City metropolitan municipality, which is one of the poorest regions in the country. 

According to the non-financial census of municipalities by Statistics South Africa, in 2019, there were close to three million indigent households scattered across 228 of the 257 municipalities in the country. The majority of these — 1.8-million households — are in the country’s eight metropolitan municipalities.

Some 132 municipalities use a monthly income of R1 780 to R3 560 as the level at which they determine whether a household should be categorised as indigent. 

At 568 365, the eThekwini metropolitan municipality has the highest number of indigent households, which equates to 73% of the province’s total number of indigent households. The City of Tshwane has the second-highest — 501 146 — making up about a third of the 1.6-million indigent households in Gauteng.

The Eastern Cape has 645 068 indigent households, with the OR Tambo district municipality accounting for 153 000 and Buffalo City for 152 035. Both municipalities carry 47% of the province’s poverty burden.

Smell of poverty

Flies buzzed out of Vusumzi Tyakume’s pit toilet when he opened the door to expose the stench of poverty in his village in Buffalo City municipality. 

Tyakume, a traditional leader in the village that is about 10 minutes from Qonce (formerly King William’s Town), detailed how his neighbours had to spend money they did not have to drain pit latrines the municipality had allegedly refused to clear. 

“There are homesteads in this village that don’t have any toilets at all. People in those homes have to go to their neighbours and ask to relieve themselves,” he said. “Those who have toilets, the pit latrines need to be drained once they are filled up. This is the competency of Buffalo City, which has never drained the latrines.

Pit latrines in Govan Mbeki informal settlement. (Photo: Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)

“We have to hire the trucks to come and drain the latrines for us … Other residents of the village end up hiring contractors to come and dig new pits next to the old latrines if they cannot afford to keep hiring trucks for drainage.” 

Most of the people in the area are unemployed, Tyakume said. “Poverty and hunger cuts deep here in the village. So, with all this poverty, people still need to fork out either R500 or R600 to hire the drainage trucks, while another person will charge up to R1 000 to erect new pit latrines from scratch.” 

Buffalo City spokesperson Samkelo Ngwenya said the municipality was not aware of any pit or bucket toilets in the metro, but said it knew about the poverty. He said the municipality had an investment strategy in place, aimed at retaining investors and attracting new ones to increase employment. 

“We have increased our indigent subsidy by 9.76%. This translates to R527.08 worth of services that will be received by indigent households every month,” said Ngwenya.

“As an attempt to cushion the poor and vulnerable against inflationary pressures and to ensure that they continue receiving services, we have continuously increased the basic welfare package for households that qualify in terms of our indigent policy and, as such, an indigent consumer currently receives a subsidy amount of R782.26 per month [that] includes a maximum of 50 kilowatts for electricity and six kilolitres for water. We also write off millions of rand of debt accumulated by indigent consumers monthly,” he said, adding that the metro had spent R1.7-billion on registered indigent homes since 2016. 

About three hours west of Buffalo City is Nelson Mandela Bay metropolitan municipality, which is one of 64 dysfunctional municipalities in the country, according to a State of Local Government report tabled in parliament in August.

People do not have decent sanitation, relying on portable toilets and pit latrines, which, says Vusumuzi Tyakume, people in his village have to pay to be drained. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)

 It is characterised by poor revenue collection, basic services backlogs, many informal settlements, little maintenance of infrastructure resulting in water and electricity supply interruptions, poor water quality and service delivery problems. 

In Mandela Bay metro, 6 010 bucket toilets are still in existence. 

Up to 10 families, with an average of about six a household, have to share one bucket toilet in Govan Mbeki village, a settlement just outside KwaDwesi township. 

Mabuyane living large

The report by public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane detailed how Mabuyane and Madikizela allegedly used some of the R3.3-million the province had set aside for Madikizela-Mandela’s memorial. According to the report, Mabuyane used R450 000 to renovate his home, and R350 000 went into the business account of Madikizela’s wife, Zona Zetu Siyazithanda Madikizela. The ANC in the Eastern Cape reportedly scored R280 000. 

Mabuyane, who earns an annual income of more than R2.2-million, allegedly deposited R450 000 with Allan Morran Design Architectural Services, a private company that carried out renovations at his private house. Morran, according to the public protector’s report, queried the payment. “At that point, Mr Mabuyane’s wife, Ms Siyasanga Mabuyane, advised Mr Morran, through an email, that the deposit of R450 000 was to be used for renovations of the [Mabuyane] private house,” Mkhwebane’s report read. 

Sonwabo Mbananga, the Eastern Cape director of media relations, did not respond to questions about the report. “The office of the premier has taken an in principle decision not to comment further than the statement issued by the premier regarding the public protector report, until the judicial review [of the report] has been concluded.”

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Khaya Koko
Khaya Koko is a journalist with a penchant for reading through legal documents braving the ravages of cold court benches to expose the crooked. He writes about social justice and human-interest stories. Most importantly, he is a card-carrying member of the Mighty Orlando Pirates.
M&G Data Desk
The Data Desk is the centre for data journalism at Mail & Guardian

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