Armed ‘coup’ in KZN town

2013-12-21 00:00

A KWAZULU-NATAL town has been seized in an armed “coup”, after a gang of panga-wielding supporters of its suspended municipal manager (MM) stormed the administrative building, beat up and ousted its official manager.

In chaotic scenes in Dundee on Wednesday that saw terrified civil servants screaming from windows, advocate Reshwant Brijraj — appointed by the province to rescue the town from wholesale mismanagement — had to flee for his life, after men in three vans broke into his office, beat his council-appointed bodyguards and kicked and robbed him on the floor.

Yesterday, Brijraj was admitted to a Durban hospital as a result of the injuries sustained in the attack. One of his bodyguards, Wilmot Sabelo Buthelezi, was also assaulted and both have laid charges at the Dundee police station.

Brijraj, who spoke exclusively to Weekend Witness, claimed the attackers were all supporters of suspended municipal manager Thabani Biyela, and alleged that Biyela himself was among the mob.

Dundee’s council has been bitterly split between rival ANC factions, and Biyela — who is allegedly backed by the faction headed by Mayor Thulani Mahaye — has been officially suspended since May. The second faction is headed by council speaker Sdu Mdluli.

Lennox Mabaso, spokesperson for the Department of Co-Operative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta), confirmed that Brijraj was the legally-appointed acting manager of Dundee.

Mabaso said, “We are not going to let this orchestrated chaos prevail”, adding that other Cogta members had come under attack in Dundee this year.

However, Biyela yesterday confirmed that he was back at work, having taken over from Brijraj. He claimed he was the town’s legitimate CEO.

He denied being present for the attack, and claimed the attackers were municipal staff.

ANC spokesperson Senzo Mkhize said, “The party will not tolerate ill-discipline, especially attacks on individuals deployed by government. We will be acting.”

Nursing bruises and a bloodshot right eye, Brijraj said he was previously attacked in Dundee on December 6, and alleged he was told by the mayor to leave the municipality as Biyela was back in charge.

He left after men barred his path back into the building.

However, speaker Mdluli — who had reported the intimidation to Cogta MEC Nomusa Dube — then formally requested Brijraj to resume his duties, and provided bodyguards for his protection at ratepayers’ expense.

Brijraj said the gang stormed the municipal building armed with pangas, knives and batons, and claimed he recognised them as members of the “aggrieved committee”, who are supporters of Biyela.

He said they overpowered his bodyguards and then turned on him. “I ran outside where I was pushed to the ground kicked and beaten up,” he said.

“My cell phone was stolen and my watch and glasses were broken. I knew if I stayed down, I would be killed. I struggled to get up and just then a police van arrived and my attackers backed off. The municipal offices are a three-storey high building, and all the while I could see petrified staff pounding at the windows and screaming.”

Police spokesperson Colonel Jay Naicker confirmed that they were investigating the incident, but that no arrests had been made.

Businessman Louis Steenkamp said Dundee was in a state of “chaos”, and residents believed that “nobody is running the town”.

DA MPL Radley Keys said the situation in Dundee represented “anarchy”, adding that he had written to Dube asking her to place the Endumeni Municipality under administration.

Mayor Mahaye did not respond to requests for comment. Mdluli is travelling in Kenya, but friends have told Weekend Witness that they fear for his safety when he returns.

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