Sasolburg municipality in limbo as mayor and municipal manager at war

Aerial view of Sasolburg. Picture: Facebook

Aerial view of Sasolburg. Picture: Facebook

ANC mayor Oumix Oliphant has been suspended for refusing to hire allegedly corrupt municipal manager Lindi Molibeli, but both are reporting for work.

Tensions are still high at the Fezile Dabi District Municipality offices in Sasolburg as the feud between the suspended ANC mayor, Oumix Oliphant, and municipal manager Lindi Molibeli threatens to tear the district municipality apart.

The feud added to the already contaminated political environment at the municipality, where most officials live in fear, with constant death threats directed at individuals at senior management level.

At the centre of the tension is the refusal of the mayor to approve the allegedly unlawful employment of the municipal manager after allegations of maladministration and corruption against her. The issue emanated from a factional battle within the ANC Fezile Dabi regional executive committee, which was said to be siding with the municipal manager against the mayor for refusing to approve the manager’s employment.

Molebeli, who is said to be politically well connected at the top of the ANC, had been reporting for duty despite her employment contract not being approved by Oliphant and the council in November last year. Oliphant also ignored her suspension and insisted on coming to her office as she believed her suspension by the party had no bearing on her work as mayor.

This led to Molibeli last week organising security guards to protect the municipal offices and prevent Oliphant from entering the Sasolburg-based municipal building. The guards stood at the entrance to the municipal building and stopped Oliphant from entering. She tried to force her way into the building but the burly men pushed her away.

On Friday, the mayor returned with her own security personnel, nearly leading to a confrontation outside the municipal offices. The Citizen has seen video footage of both incidents of Molebeli’s guards stopping Oliphant from entering and the two groups of security involved in a shouting match and threatening one another on Friday.

It appears the regional ANC leadership wanted Molebeli to stay as municipal manager.

Oliphant took her suspension issue to the council several times but had not been successful to have the matter considered or discussed. In her papers, the mayor made it clear she was suspended because she refused to comply with an “unlawful instruction” to appoint Molebeli as municipal manager. She said if she had complied it “would be to the detriment of the municipality with far-reaching consequences”.

She asked the ANC to afford her an opportunity to make representation to it on the matter, but the party was not interested. She maintained her “temporary suspension” did not affect her position as a duly elected representative because her ANC membership was not permanently suspended.

Political parties and officials raised concern about Molebeli’s recent actions after she returned to office. She allegedly conducted a number of administrative transactions and approved the hiring of service providers without following proper adjudication processes and without the approval of the council.

It is alleged that among those was the hiring of Standard Bank as the municipality’s banker for a period of three years without first seeking council approval. She also allegedly issued an appointment letter to the bank notifying it that it had been appointed as a service provider before the Bid Evaluation Committee (BEC) sat to finalise the matter.

Also, the attendance register for the BEC was allegedly forged, with the committee members separately asked to sign the register although the committee never sat due to lack of a quorum. Even the name of one official who was on leave was allegedly inserted into the register despite the fact that the committee did not sit at all. The Bid Adjudication Committee (BAC) called several meetings to get a report and clarity from the BEC about its decision, but the latter committee failed to attend the meetings. The BAC became suspicious of possible wrongdoing and recommended that possible fraud be investigated and appropriate steps be taken by the municipality’s accounting officer.

“The Bid Adjudication Committee is of the opinion that this process has been contaminated with discrepancies. The Bid Adjudication Committee, given the facts surrounding this bid, is unable to make open, transparent and procedurally sound adjudication  and recommendation,” the committee said in its report.

Further it was alleged that the municipality paid an inflated R9 million price for the funeral of the late health MEC, Fezi Ngubentombi, who died in a car accident on N1 outside Bloemfontein on 1 December 2012.

According to a report written by the EFF at the municipality, an audit of the Fezile Dabi Municipality for 2015/16 financial year came with an unqualified opinion from the Auditor-General’s office despite suspected fraud regarding Ngubentombi’s funeral cost. The party reported a case of fraud to the police pertaining to Ngubentombi’s funeral cost and demanded that the AG office account for its failure to detect the discrepancy in its audit report.

According to the EFF, the mayor was being victimised  because she refused to appoint Molebeli as municipal manager. Several other people close to the ANC and its alliance partners concurred.

“She has been taken to the disciplinary action of the ANC for refusing to take an unlawful instruction …We have opened a case as the EFF councillors case number 24/7/2018,” EFF said in a statement.

The situation is so tense at Fezile Dabi that the workers under the South African Municipal Workers Union (Samwu) had been embarking on strike for nearly two weeks demanding that Molebeli must go and  for the ANC to intervene in the municipality.

When The Citizen contacted Molebeli for comment, she asked for written questions which she had not responded to since Thursday last week while Oliphant declined to comment and referred us to municipal spokesperson Thomas Noptjhe, who did not answer his phone since Friday. On Monday Oliphant undertook to contact Noptjhe herself but later sent an SMS saying he was not answering his phone.

ANC acting regional secretary Brutus Mahlaku, who agreed to respond after an hour yesterday, was not available for comment as his phone remained switched off.

A Samwu shopsteward, Loyd Rabodila, said they held a meeting with the regional ANC where they urged the party to let Molebeli go because she was the cause of the problem in the municipality.

“This battle does not start now, it comes a long way. We have asked the ANC to intervene so that the municipal operations can go back to normal. In this municipality, we used to have investment to the value of more than R200 million, but we have lost all of that,” Rabodila said.

Sasolburg, where the municipality is situated, is the home of Sasol oil company and other major firm in the northeast of the Free State province. The area is situated closer to the economic hub of Johannesburg.

The situation has not only divided the ANC and its alliance partners in the region, but some municipal officials are said to be leaving in fear after being threatened by anonymous people.

The municipality’s chief finance officer, Gcobani Mashiya, resigned early this year after receiving death threats, and a car belonging to a member of mayoral committee for finance, Sylvia de Beer, was mysteriously stolen in Parys and never found days after the death threats were received by the CFO. The director of corporate services, Advocate Andile Mini, who is a member of the bid adjudication committee had his car broken into and a dead animal found inside it and his cellphone and laptop were stolen.

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