Protest king turns tenderpreneur

2014-03-16 14:01

Three years ago, Samora Mlotja was a hero for residents in Lydenburg’s Thaba Chweu municipality.

He led a two-year protest campaign that saw residents refuse to pay for municipal services – and got mayor Clara Ndlovu and 10 councillors fired by the ANC.

But now Mlotja has been labelled a hypocrite after getting a R2.1?million-per-year contract to cut off residents’ electricity if they don’t pay their bills.

“He was telling us not to pay for services because the municipality was corrupt. Suddenly he’s working with the municipality against us. We’ve been complaining to the municipality about being cut off but no one is willing to listen,” said resident Sipho Nkosi.

Before getting the contract, Mlotja made a living renting out sound systems for events. He joined forces with other disgruntled ANC members who were unhappy with the municipality.

During two years of protests, Ndlovu’s house, a social grants office and a police kitchen were set alight. One protester, Jacob Malakane, was shot dead.

Thaba Chewu was placed under administration by the Mpumalanga provincial government in response to residents’ claims that R3.2 million had disappeared from council coffers.

A former municipal manager – who was not among those fired – told City Press Mlotja got the tender “after he took the initiative to make a proposal to the council”.

“That was for 2011 alone but the contract was extended for many months afterwards even though he was struggling to do the job?...?he would even claim for disconnecting empty stands and cut off the wrong people, who sued the municipality,” the manager said.

These included the local Shoprite Checkers and Toyota branches, an undertaker and guesthouses.

Mlotja admitted this was true but blamed the municipality’s “faulty” system, which he said sometimes did not reflect paid-up accounts.

A current councillor said: “He was telling people not to pay for services and now he is the one cutting them off for doing what he told them. This is hypocrisy.”

Mlotja said some individuals who were core members of the protest group also benefited by becoming councillors.

“I’ve told the community that I’ll pull out [of council tenders] if those councillors – Mike Mashigo and Johannes Nkosi – resign. This whole thing is driven by jealousy. We told people to boycott services back then because they were paying but their money was stolen due to corruption.”

Mashigo responded: “He’s daydreaming. We just attended meetings as residents but we were not core members, nor were we leading the group.”

Land bought for R1

Mlotja paid just R1 for a plot of municipal land – and he says the DA, which raised concerns about the deal, is “racist” for complaining.

When concerns were raised by the council, Mlotja was asked to pay R20?000 for the land, which he did. City Press has a copy of the sale agreement between Mlotja and the Thaba Chweu council, signed on July?5 2012.

“The purchase price is the sum of R1.00 (one rand) and shall be payable as and when the parties agree thereto,” it reads.

The DA raised the issue in a council meeting. A former municipal manager said when they realised

the transaction was illegal because the full council hadn’t approved it, Mlotja was then asked to pay R20?000.

Mlotja said he had paid for the stand and accused DA provincial leader Anthony Benadie of being a racist.

“The outcry stems from the fact that the land wasn’t given to the Muslim community and some whites who wanted it. There are many illegal land deals done by whites in this town but then he doesn’t complain,” Mlotja said.

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