Paralysis and decline in Maluti-a-Phofung

As political infighting sows deep divisions in an already dysfunctional municipality, impoverished residents bear the pain of missing millions intended to bring them running water.

Mojalefa Moloi, 29, travels more than 2 kilometres a day to fetch water from an old pipeline on the outskirts of Phuthaditjhaba, Free State. He makes a living by fetching water for the people in his community.

Moloi lives in Mphatlalatsane, a dense settlement of shacks and ramshackle concrete buildings. He dreams of running water in his home, but that’s not likely to happen anytime soon. The crumbling infrastructure in the area is expected to supply water to an estimated 353 452 people, but the taps in Mphatlalatsane have run dry.

Moloi says the Maluti-a-Phofung municipality  has failed its people.

The Dikwankwetla Party of South Africa leader, Moeketsi Lebesa, says the municipality allocated an estimated R71.8 million for the construction of a pipeline from Sterkfontein Dam to Kestel, which locals had hoped would bring them much-needed relief.

Lebesa says concerns were raised during a recent council sitting in which it was revealed how the funds were used for “operations”. But sources allege these funds were embezzled from municipal coffers.

“They fatten their pockets and forget about the people who put them in power,” say Moloi in reference to former municipal mayor Vusi Tshabalala.

Tshabalala was axed in a vote of no confidence in May among allegations of misusing municipal resources meant for service delivery. He has also been linked to several dubious contracts.

Said to be a close ally of ANC secretary general and former Free State premier Ace Magashule, Tshabalala’s administration is laden with accusations of fraud and financial mismanagement. 

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2 October 2018: Moloi Mojalefa is a resident of Mphatlalatsane village. He earns an income by fetching water for other villagers from a pipeline 2km away.

Pata-pata in Phuthaditjhaba

“The municipality throws music festivals while our taps have no water,” says Moloi, referring to former SABC chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng’s homecoming bash earlier this year.

A municipal progress report tabled in September raises questions about the use of the R71.8 million, and reveals how the municipality has not been billing communities for rates and taxes for the past nine months.

According to Lebesa, this has led to cash flow challenges. Creditors and salaries are still waiting for payment, and service delivery and capital projects have all but ground to a halt. “The municipality is on the brink of collapse. If it were a business, it would be bankrupt,” says Lebesa.

“Our mayor loved bling,” he says, “even at the expense of service delivery.”

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2 October 2018: Dikwankwetla party leader Moeketsi Lebesa says that irresponsible government spending and fraudulent deals have led to impairments in Maluti-a-Phofung municipality, where residents face late service delivery, along with water and power cuts.

Out of the 132 948 registered electricity users in the area with prepaid metres, only 59 873 buy electricity. The rest get their electricity informally, according to the report. It notes that the area’s ageing electricity infrastructure, particularly critical substations such as Elizabeth Ross and Makabelane, is in need of extensive refurbishment to serve the growing community.

Residents complain that blackouts can last for days. According to the report, as at the end of the previous financial year, the municipality owed Eskom a staggering R2.7 billion.

Down the barrel of a gun

It’s clear from the heavy security at the municipal offices – Lebesa says taxpayers are footing a R3 million bill for the protection of just two municipal administrators – that tensions are high between opposition parties and a divided ANC caucus.

According to DA councillor Leona Kleynhans, chaos erupted during the sitting when the motion of no confidence against Tshabalala was tabled. Threats levelled against administrators prompted security to pepper spray alleged rogue councillors and cock their weapons to ensure their safety.

Kleynhans describes the municipality as a battleground between pro-Jacob Zuma and pro-Cyril Ramaphosa factions who have put service delivery on the backburner. 

“The chaos in the municipality has largely been necessitated by poor governance and the failing ANC’s infighting. Maluti-a-Phofung has become a battleground between the pro-Zuma and pro-Ramaphosa factions for quite some time. This has led to the suspension of 14 ANC councillors at various points in time for allegedly voting with the opposition,” she says.

Despite municipal media liaison officer Zanele Lebenya’s assurance that acting municipal mayor Kadimo Masekoane would respond to New Frame’s questions “first thing tomorrow morning” (12 October) New Frame was yet to receive any responses from Masekoane.

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