| EASTERN CAPE

Residents dissatisfied as ANC chief whip returns to troubled Stutterheim

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“They sent back the person who failed us”

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The municipal building in Stutterheim, torched in protests in 2018, is now a dumping site for garbage and people use it to relieve themselves. Photo: Nombulelo Damba-Hendrik

  • Stutterheim residents have been protesting for years about the state of Amahlathi Local Municipality.
  • ANC councillor Nokuzola Mlahleki, who was suspended as Speaker after protests, has now been reinstated as Chief Whip.
  • Mlahleki says Amahlathi Local Municipality “currently has no funds”

Residents of Stutterheim say they have lost faith in the ANC and the Amahlathi Local Municipality in Eastern Cape, after the ANC reinstated Nokuzola Mlahleki, who was previously accused of defrauding the municipality, as Chief Whip.

Two service providers alleged that she asked them to bill the municipality R50,000 for work they never did, and then wanted the funds paid over to her.

But Mlahleki became the Speaker after the 2016 local government elections and after the fraud allegations. However, she was suspended when protests erupted over allegations of nepotism and anger over the poor provision of basic services.

ANC Amathole Regional Secretary Terris Ntutu said Mlahleki was removed while the Eastern Cape Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) was investigating, but that has been concluded and she has now been reinstated.

“We do not consult with community members when we deploy [ANC] members,” he said.

Secretary of a Crisis Committee which residents elected in 2018, Thembikaya Wapi, said, “We do not know who to cry to now because they are all failing to assist us. It’s even worse what the ANC has done sending back Mlahleki. There was an inside investigation that was conducted by councillors … They are refusing to make it public. COGTA conducted its own investigation but we are not getting any reports. Those are the things that the ANC should be pushing to be made public. Instead, they sent back the person who failed us.”

When unhappiness with the municipality and anger over high unemployment boiled over in October 2018, the municipal offices, Mlungisi commercial mall, and a clinic were torched. One person was shot dead, allegedly by police. That matter is still under investigation.

The protesters had accused former Mayor Pateka Qaba, former Chief Whip Xhanti Mngxaso and Mlahleki of nepotism and jobs for sale. Protests carried on for weeks. Then Eastern Cape COGTA MEC Fikile Xasa announced its probe into the allegations.

Qaba was fired by the ANC, Mngxaso and Mlahleki were replaced, and the municipality was put under administration for nine months, but residents say nothing changed.

In February 2020, exasperated residents staged a four day protest demanding Eastern Cape Premier Oscar Mabuyane intervene since they felt the various attempts to fix the municipality had failed. Mabuyane apologised to residents for the provincial government’s failure to fix Amahlathi Local Municipality. The Crisis Committee were upbeat after that meeting. But months later, the town remains in a dismal state.

The burnt out municipal building hasn’t been touched since 2018. People use it as a garbage dump, and relieve themselves there.

In Mlungisi township, where most houses are built of mud, the municipality has spent R11.7 million on an incomplete sportsfield which it started in 2018. Municipal spokesperson Anathi Nyoka said the money had been spent on earthworks, fencing, and demolishing some existing buildings. The total bill will be R26 million.

Siyabulela Mgema, United Brothers Rugby Club manager, said, “Municipality officials made it look like they wanted to finish building the ‘stadium’ fast but now it is clear to us that they were just pushing for a tender.”

Speaking to GroundUp, Mlahleki said the people who are against her are not ANC members. She said she is aware that the community is divided about her return; some are happy but others are not happy.

“My job is to make sure that service delivery now reaches to people and we are already working on that involving NGOs and stakeholders from outside to assist, as our municipality currently has no funds,” she said.

Premier Mabuyane’s spokesperson Mvuyisiwekhaya Sicwetsha said the Premier has followed up the issues raised by residents in February. He said after a disciplinary process a councillor had been dismissed. He refused to name the councillor but GroundUp understands it was Mayor Paeka Qaba, who was replaced by Agnes Hobo in January 2019, but remains a councillor.

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TOPICS:  Corruption Government Politics

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