On 29 September 2020, an ActionSA delegation led by Herman Mashaba met with the Mashishing Civic Coalition (MCC) in response to their calls for help. Present at the meeting were representatives of the MCC led by its president, Mr Joel Pompie Letwaba, including Collin Manzini, Fortune Sibiya, George Viljoen, and Mike Setwaba.
This report aims to describe the challenges and allegations expressed by the MCC delegation on behalf of the Mashishing, Lydenburg community in Thaba Chweu Municipality in Mpumalanga.
For over 9 years the people of Mashishing have been crying out for help to have their concerns and complaints addressed. At the heart of their issues are serious allegations of police corruption, maladministration, dereliction of duty, and alleged complicity in criminal activity, which includes rape, sexual abuse, and kidnapping of young female police graduates at the Mashishing Police Station.
Additionally, the municipal manager stands accused of alleged fraud relating to the issuing of unlawful business permits during level 5 of the national COVID-19 lockdown. Cases are opened to no avail and whistle-blowers are intimidated into silence while those implicated in corruption and criminality continue with impunity. Their view is that law enforcement in all of Mpumalanga Province is in a state of paralysis.
During the meeting, the MCC further detailed 10 key issues as follows:
Issue 1: Maladministration
The MCC reported that their concerns arise from gross maladministration in the Thaba Chewu Municipality. Over the last 10 years, the Thaba Chweu municipality has received 10 adverse disclaimers recorded in the Auditor General’s report, however, there has been no consequence management nor has there been a single recommendation been implemented. Furthermore, regardless of the municipality having spent approximately R1m for the compilation of a forensic report to investigate municipal losses to the value of up to R700m, no effort has been made to implement the recommendations of the report. Instead, people implicated in the report have been awarded by being appointed to higher office. The Auditor-General has expressed concern that the unauthorised, irregular, fruitless, and wasteful expenditure continues without consequences.
The MCC also raised issues relating to appointment practices in the municipality, with allegations of breaches of the Municipal Systems Act and accompanying regulations. Directors and other employees in the municipality are allegedly employed without relevant qualifications required of those who occupy senior positions. The silence of the Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs is glaring.
Issue 2: Fraud and Corruption
Council has decided to pardon those implicated in the forensic report conducted in 2017 revealing irregular, fruitless and wasteful expenditure to the value of about R500m. Furthermore, the meeting also alleged that RDP houses in Lydenburg, Sabie, and Graskop meant for the benefit of the poor are being occupied and/or are owned by municipal employees. The community further expressed concern regarding municipal tenders continually being awarded to politically connected comrades, partners, spouses, and friends of municipal officials.
On 12 June 2020, a joint letter by the MCC together with the Kellysville Community Forum (KCF) was sent to both the municipal manager and executive mayor regarding the illegal sale of RDP houses. It stated that:
“….A series of protests by community members concerning their houses being sold. RDP houses are meant for the poor, not mining engineers and senior officials of Thaba Chweu Municipality. We as a matter of urgency demand and RDP audit and give both to respond within seven days.”
Neither the MCC nor the KCF has ever been received a response from the municipal manager or the executive mayor.
Issue 3: Eskom and Duma Electricity Debt
It was noted that the Thaba Chweu Municipality’s electricity debt is estimated at R900m and continues to escalate. Over 80% of residents do not pay for services, however, no efforts have been made to rectify this. Furthermore, rampant illegal electricity connections within the municipality are left unmanaged. It was further alleged that the relationship between Eskom and Duma Power Station is problematic. Additionally, the MCC disclosed that the Duma Power Station project was not approved by the national treasury.
Issue 4: Bridging of Electricity Debt
The MCC complained that there are more than 6000 ghost electricity meters installed and billed but that are not registered with the municipality. The community also has knowledge of municipal employees and shop-stewards who are involved in the unlawful connections of bridging electricity meters in Lydenburg, Sabie, and Graskop. No action has been taken against these employees.
Issue 5: Illegal Placement of Staff
In 2016, the High Court ruled that the more than 110 employees who were unlawfully appointed to work in the municipality without following due human resources recruitment guidelines were to be rescinded. However, the court order has never been implemented. In this regard, the municipality should be viewed to be in contempt of court.
Issue 6: Theft of Municipal Assets
Numerous issues relating to the theft of municipal assets were raised. In 2018 an electricity transformer worth R500 000 and a municipal water pump were stolen in Lydenburg and Sabie respectively where it was discovered that two municipal employees were involved, however, no consequences have been followed to date.
In 2019 municipal fleet petrol cards and vehicles and misused, for personal gain by municipal officials, also without consequences.
It is further alleged that municipal employees and councillors are unlawfully selling municipal land for personal gain. On 12 June 2020, the MCC together with the KCF sent a joint letter to the municipal manager stating that:
“The community of Mashishing is extremely appalled by the illegal selling of land in the entire municipality with impunity. Upon our investigation we found that 5-Schoeman Street is a property of municipality, and therefore, an erection of any structure is illegal.”
The two parties also requested that the municipality furnish them with council resolution granting permission for the sale of properties, but the request was never honoured.
On 26 September 2020, a municipal refuse compactor truck was suspiciously stolen, however, there have been no leads as to the investigation into the theft.
Allegations of the municipal manager’s office being in cahoots with a firefighting service provider for the municipality in the unlawful issuing of business permits to foreign nationals in return for bribes during the lockdown period and at the expense of local businesses.
Issue 7: Litigations
The municipality is spending more than R16m on legal fees annually toward litigations. This money could instead be channelled toward providing quality service delivery to the people of Lydenburg. Legal firms are alleged to be working with municipal employees and councillors to gain access to municipal resources through unnecessary ongoing litigations that do not translate into adequately dealing with fraud, corruption, and maladministration within the city.
Issue 8: Poor Service Delivery
The MCC asserted that service delivery in Mashishing is non-existent. The town’s road infrastructure is riddled with potholes with no road markings and functioning traffic lights. Refuse collection is inconsistent and the non-functioning of the sewer plant has meant that there are sewer spillages all over the town because of neglect and lack of maintenance. An R1.5m fumigation tender being unlawfully awarded and selectively implemented where the more affluent parts of town were serviced, while townships not being fumigated/serviced.
Issue 9: Glencore Lydenburg Smelter
The closure of the Glencore Lydenburg Smelter has meant that direct and indirect job losses estimated at 672 employees and 132 contractors have been affected. At the time of the meeting, the Statistician General’s report published that South Africa’s unemployment rate increased by an estimated 2.3% during the COVID-19 national lockdown. This means that at a local level, the challenges faced by the Mashishing community can be expected to worsen even further.
The MCC registered their disappointment regarding the closure of the Glencore Lydenburg Smelter while South Africa has the world’s largest reserves of chrome. Why would we opt to export our raw materials to outside countries instead of ramping up our own capacity to preserve and create jobs, and by extension grow the economy. Rather they would have expected that the government would prioritise the interests of Mashishing residents and affected employees instead of allowing the closure and further increase the unemployment rate within Mpumalanga Province.
Issue 10: Sexual Harassment at Lydenburg Police Station
Among the issues of even greater concern involves police corruption and misconduct. At the centre of the allegations is the Lydenburg Station Commander who has been accused of alleged sexual misconduct toward young, newly graduated female police officers. Despite complaints and a case been opened against the station commander, no action has been taken to investigate or remedy the situation. Instead, the station commander has been allowed to carry on with absolute impunity.
On this issue, the MCC vehemently expressed its displeasure and demands that law enforcement must be brought to account to the aggrieved female police officers and be made to face the consequences of their misconduct.
The meeting stressed that if we are serious about gender-based violence in this country, then how are ordinary women and children to be protected, and supported by the police, when the very police, are the perpetrators of violence.
Conclusions and Recommendations
Taking the issues raised into account, the MCC appealed to ActionSA to take steps in assisting the Mashishing community in bringing their issues to national attention as has been done with the Barberton community with the Lily Mine container disaster.
Secondly, that steps be taken to have corrupt police and municipal officials answer for their unlawful and criminal activities, particularly those involving gender-based violence and abuse in the police force.
Lastly, the meeting noted that despite stated issues of police corruption and misconduct, credit must be given to the Thaba Chweu K-9 Unit as the only functional and effective police unit in Thaba Chweu.
ActionSA commits to following up on these matters as and when necessary.