/ 16 November 2022

Cops charged with ANC councillor’s death

Two police officers will appear in court in Port Sheptone on Friday in connection with the murder of ANC eThekwini councillor Mnqobi Molefe earlier this year. (Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)

Two police officers will appear in court in Port Shepstone on Friday in connection with the murder of ANC eThekwini councillor Mnqobi Molefe earlier this year in an assassination allegedly linked to contestation over the R5 billion Lower Mkomazi water project.

In a shocking chain of events, the task team investigating political killings in KwaZulu-Natal has charged the same officers for two other assassinations reportedly linked to the conflict over building Umgeni Water Amanzi’s Ngwadini Dam.

The team also raided Umgeni’s headquarters in Pietermaritzburg on 28 October to interview acting chief executive officer Sipho Manana and staff member Simangele Njoko, the contract participation goals (CPG) coordinator on the dam project, in connection with Molefe’s killing.

They are understood to have seized a laptop and cellphone belonging to Njoko, along with records of the CPG meetings held to discuss work on Ngwadini and the R1.2 billion Craigieburn water treatment works as part of the investigation into the alleged hits for hire.

Molefe was the ANC councillor for ward 99 in the eThekwini metro, which covers Craigieburn, Umkomaas, Magabeni and Clansthal, and had been embroiled in a dispute between two rival business forums over the lucrative tender at the time of his murder.

He was shot dead in September at his fiancee’s home at Mvutshini, near Margate, in what is believed to have been a planned assassination.

His fiancee was unharmed and nothing was taken in the shooting, which occurred after Molefe had reportedly raised concerns about his safety with the ANC leadership in the eThekwini region.

The murder of Molefe followed that of Mlungisi Buthelezi, who was shot dead in August, and the shooting of Nhlonipho Nzimande at his home at KwaHlongwa in September — both allegedly carried out by the same hitmen in blue.

The killings are understood to be linked to a battle for the 35% share of the overall R5 billion contract for the construction of the Lower Mkomazi water project, which is awarded to black business in terms of Umgeni’s procurement regulations.

Two business forums, the Black Business Forum (formerly Delangokubona Business Forum) and the Ward 99 Business Forum, are in competition for the local component of the contract, according to impeccable sources at Umgeni.

Tenders closed in May for work on the dam, which is scheduled to come onstream in 2026 and supply water to Amanzimtoti, helping ease the water crisis in the Ugu district municipality on which it borders.

One highly-placed source at Umgeni said Molefe had been threatened at a CPG meeting held to discuss the addition of new contractors and that it was records of these meetings that police had been seeking to secure.

“The deceased councillor attended a meeting where he indicated that he will reappoint the committee from the community which basically issues tenders. There is huge interest from warring factions including the BBF and another group. This upset the existing members and he was killed,” the source said.

“The task team that investigates political killings came on the 28th [of October] on the day of the board meeting. They took her [Njoko’s] laptop and all the information they wanted relating to the Lower Mkomazi project and the CPG fights relating to that project.”

The team also interviewed Manana. The source said the Umgeni board had asked Manana for a detailed report on the issue, which would be presented at the next board meeting.

Umgeni communications head Shami Harichunder confirmed that the police had conducted interviews on site with two staff members in connection with the investigation, but declined to name them.

“It is confirmed that a group of police officers arrived at Umgeni Water’s head office in

Pietermaritzburg on Friday, 28 October 2022,” Harichunder said.

“They said their presence was part of an investigation they were conducting and asked to see two employees whom they believed could assist. Umgeni Water is not in a position to divulge the identities of the employees because it may be unnecessarily and unfairly prejudicial to them.”

He said “a discussion” took place between the police and the employees separately. The police then left.

“There has been no further communication from the police. It can be assumed that the information the police required was provided and it adequately addressed the questions raised by them,” Harichunder said.

Umgeni Water would “continue to cooperate fully with the police if or when required”, he added.

National Prosecuting Authority spokesperson Natasha Kara confirmed that the two police officers, Mayendran Chetty and Thanduxolo Phelago, had appeared in court in Scottburgh on Wednesday on two counts of murder and one conspiracy to commit murder charge.

They are also charged with robbery with aggravating circumstances, unlawful possession of a firearm and three counts of unlawful possession of ammunition. The two were remanded in custody until 25 November when they will make a bail application.

Kara also confirmed that the two officers would also appear in court in Port Shepstone on Friday on two counts of murder, including the killing of Molefe.

Lirandzu Themba, spokesperson for Police Minister Bheki Cele, confirmed that the police officers had been arrested for Molefe’s murder.

“Investigations continue. We cannot comment further,” Themba said.

The murders are not the first linked to lucrative contracts issued by Umgeni, the province’s biggest water entity which supplies 13 million people in the province with water.

In February 2021, Sibonelo Shinga, the owner of Raminet Technologies and MPS Strategic Solutions, was shot dead in Durban while driving to the airport.

Shinga, a former provincial tender board chairperson who moved into the IT industry, had allegedly paid for a lavish birthday party for former Umgeni Water chief executive Thami Hlongwa.

Shinga was at the centre of allegations of “capture” of Umgeni Water through Hlongwa — who resigned before a forensic report into a R54 million three-month community facilitation contract and R87 million for an eight-month security assessment could be tabled — at the time of his murder.

Hlongwa disappeared shortly after the murder of Shinga, which has not been solved.

Umgeni terminated its contracts with Raminet, one of the companies blacklisted by IT giant EOH over corrupt contracts for which it recently paid the Special Investigating Unit and the department of water and sanitation more than R178 million, plus interest, last week.

It also terminated its contracts with MPS.

But the Umgeni board dissolved by former water and sanitation minister Lindiwe Sisulu in 2019 has, since its reappointment last year, reinstated both companies.

Harichunder said the termination of the Raminet contract had been “carefully examined by the current leadership”, which had decided to reinstate the contract to avoid legal action.

He said Umgeni Water believed there was “risk in defending a court application by the company for financial compensation as a result of loss of income”.

“The decision to reinstate the contract assisted greatly in averting expensive legal costs. There was also risk of the legal costs incurred being prescribed as wasteful expenditure,” he said.

“Reinstatement of the contract was a sound business decision as the company provides an essential service to Umgeni Water that is required for the effective day-to-day functioning of the organisation’s information and communication systems.” 

Harichunder said the EOH blacklisting did not affect the ability of Raminet to do business with government entities.

“Blacklisting of any entity — public or private — has force or effect if done so by the national treasury,” Harichunder said.

He said MPS had secured an urgent interdict in the Pietermaritzburg high court, which set aside the decision to suspend the contract.

“No further comment can be provided as the matter is sub judice,” Harichnder said.