Mpumalanga ward saga turns deadly

2011-02-26 17:56

The man Premier David Mabuza’s camp is hellbent on stopping from becoming a councillor in the strife-torn Ermelo area is under protection after receiving death threats.

Bongani Phakathi left his Wesselton home near Ermelo on February 16 after receiving intelligence information that suggested a plot to kill him was being hatched.

He alleges that police raided his home after he left.City Press can confirm that Phakathi is the unnamed person National Police Commissioner General Bheki Cele told journalists had been questioned in Pretoria in connection with the protests.

Mpumalanga Hawks unit head Major-General Simon Mapyane ­interrogated and took a statement from Phakathi. Police spokesperson Captain Leonard Hlathi said Phakathi was not charged.

Riots erupted in Wesselton near Ermelo on February 13 after residents accused members of the ANC’s Gert Sibande regional executive committee of manipulating nomination processes to favour their preferred candidate ward councillors.

They accused the committee and Msukaligwa ­councillors of nepotism, sex-for-jobs, bribery-for-jobs, corruption and failure to provide services.

The Gert Sibande regional executive committee, which is chaired by Mpumalanga safety and security MEC Vusi Shongwe, forms part of Mabuza’s camp in the province.

 Committee member Sibusiso Sigudla, whom residents have nicknamed “Deputy Premier” as he is perceived to wield too much power in the ANC and the Msukaligwa council, told City Press that “DD (Mabuza) is my friend”.

In Wesselton’s ward 5, where the protests began, the regional executive committee wants Ermelo Provincial Hospital fleet management officer Mfanimpela “Mpe” Nkosi as ward councillor meanwhile the community wants Phakathi, who backs Mbombela mayor and ANC provincial executive member Lassy Chiwayo’s camp.

Phakathi confirmed that he had asked for Luthuli House’s intervention after it became clear that he was a target.

“The ANC gave me security after assessing the situation,” Phakathi said.

“Certain people and the police are trying to label me as the mastermind behind the unrest, but I was not even there when the community took the decision to protest. Police have accused me of ­hiring people to protest. How can I buy the whole community?”

Meanwhile, MEC Shongwe’s handling of the riots has cast doubts on his impartiality:

» Three Gert Sibande ANC sources say Shongwe was present at an ANC meeting at the Msukaligwa offices on February 14 during which a list with names of individuals to be targeted as the instigators of the protests was discussed.

Also present were Sigudla and Phelele Shongwe, Msukaligwa mayor Bheki Vilakazi’s bodyguard.

It is ­alleged that police were subsequently briefed to go after these “instigators” in a meeting that was held at the ANC offices in Ermelo.

» Ermelo Chamber of Business president Marius Scholpz alleges that Shongwe said he was unwilling to facilitate dialogue between the protesters and the ANC or ­government because they were “criminals”.

The protesters had ­approached the chamber to assist in starting talks.Shongwe, through his department’s spokesperson, Joseph Mabuza, declined to answer ­e-mailed questions on the perceived conflict of interest and referred them to ANC Gert Sibande regional secretary Muzi Chirwa.

Chirwa also did not answer questions sent to him and did not return messages left on his cellphone.Hlathi could neither confirm nor deny the existence of the list. “As police, we acted on some information.

That’s all I will say,” he said.

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