Man sent in to fix municipality spends R20m on bodyguards

2014-05-25 19:55
(City Press)

(City Press)

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Johannesburg - The man who was sent in to fix a struggling municipality in Mpumalanga has allegedly spent about R20m in the past 14 months for bodyguards to protect himself and senior managers - from their own colleagues, City Press reports.

Now at least 25 guards wearing black leather jackets and blue jeans, pistols holstered at their hips, patrol Emalahleni's municipal offices in Witbank.

During a visit this week, City Press found guards from two private security companies, Guardian Group and Khuphukani, on all three floors of the municipal building on Mandela Street.

There are Guardian staff posted at the building’s entrances, while others guard corridors and the offices of departmental heads.

Guardian Group guards outnumber the Khuphukani crew, who wear navy blue uniforms and are largely deployed at the building’s three entrances.

Premier David Mabuza put Emalahleni under administration in April last year amid serious allegations of corruption against its then municipal manager George Mthimunye, as well as complaints from residents about erratic water and electricity supplies.

According to administrator Theo van Vuuren, a scuffle between Mthimunye and members of the SA Municipal Workers' Union (Samwu) in February last year prompted the municipality to hire the guards.

Workers got fed up after the provincial government and the ANC’s Nkangala executive committee ignored their complaints about Mthimunye's alleged involvement in corruption.

The Samwu members marched him out of the municipal building and left him at the ANC's regional offices, saying he should be with "the people who deployed him".

City Press has seen financial statements that show the municipality has paid Guardian Group R20.3m between 28 February 2013 and 21 May this year.

Beefing up security

The amounts paid to the company fluctuate between R60 000 and R1.5m a month, and it sometimes receives four payments in a month.

None of the guards seem to protect Emalahleni's politicians: five employees, all Samwu members, said Mayor Salome Sithole travels with just a chauffeur and no guard, and the Speaker, Augustine Mkhwanazi, has no protection at all.

One employee said: "The mayor is driven by a former traffic officer. They’re not asked for security even though they’re the ones mostly in danger because of infighting among themselves as politicians and residents disgruntled with poor service delivery."

Khuphukani is operating on a three-year contract valued at R3m.

Van Vuuren said he had to beef up security after the incident in February last year, and also to protect senior managers who are investigating allegations of corruption against municipal employees.

"This was necessitated by large-scale staff unrest and the assault of [Mthimunye] and the damaging of property. Proper [procurement] processes applicable in emergency situations were followed," he said.

"Since the intervention, the need to continue with the protection of key staff remained and on various occasions, the security had to intervene in attacks on officials, especially where sensitive fraudulent activities were investigated. In the interest of security, the number of guards being contracted or the staff receiving protection will not be disclosed," said Van Vuuren.

He would not give any details of the contract with Guardian Group, nor any information about cases under investigation.

Mthimunye was this week sworn in as a member of the National Council of Provinces.
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