Clean-up backlash

2010-05-04 00:00

POLICE are investigating a case of malicious damage to property following the torching of an Msunduzi Municipality traffic vehicle in Imbali on Sunday night.

It is alleged that the fire was deliberately set as a warning to public safety division employees, who are seen to be co-operating with the council task team in its quest to uncover alleged financial mismanagement in the division.

Sources who wished not to be named for fear of being victimised said the torching is also a warning to people who allegedly support the suspension of public safety head Kenny Chetty.

Chetty was placed on special leave last week.

The Witness learnt that traffic senior superintendent Kwenza Khumalo was yesterday appointed to act as Chetty’s replacement.

Sources who spoke to The Witness said the tactic of threatening a traffic officer’s life is not new. Union members and traffic officers said the division is being run “mafia” style.

The traffic vehicle was torched at the home of Thulani Nzimande, a traffic officer and shop steward of the SA Municipal Workers’ Union.

Msunduzi administrator Johann Mettler confirmed that Nzimande had the vehicle because he was on duty.

Speaking to The Witness, a shaken Nzimande said he had been working on his house and cleaning his yard in Imbali Stage 1 with his brother-in-law when he decided to go and buy meat for a braai with two colleagues.

He went in his own car to drop off his brother-in-law, who lives 10 houses down the road, when he got the call that his work car was on fire.

“I was stunned, but I thought that maybe [the neighbour who called] was mistaken,” said Nzimande. “I got home and the car was burning … I tried to douse the fire with water from my hosepipe, but the car ended up being seriously damaged by the fire,” said Nzimande.

While he was trying to put out the fire, he got a call from a colleague who was told by another colleague to contact him and find out how his work car was, said Nzimande.

He said the Nissan Tiida cost the municipality R182 000.

A police spokesperson, Warrant Officer Joey Jeevan, confirmed that a case of malicious da­mage to property is being investigated.

Mettler said investigations are being conducted and initial indications are that an arsonist has been at work.

Nzimande’s colleagues in the union and the traffic division alleged that the torching could have been the work of an “elite squad” seen to be loyal to Chetty.

They alleged that there is a “hit list” of people who are targets of the squad.

The squad’s members have allegedly amassed so much in overtime payments from the council that they are the envy of other traffic officers.

A source said the members of the squad drive luxury cars and have “impressive” houses that have allegedly been bought with overtime earnings. The squad members do not wear uniforms, but drive council vehicles when executing their duties, sources said.

“The luxury cars are parked at the traffic division’s headquarters [in Washington Road], because the elite squad members cannot maintain them,” a source said.

“A lifestyle audit is in order for the [squad] members.”

Another source said the sacked bodyguards of former mayor Zanele Hlatshwayo later joined the elite squad.

According to sources, Khumalo’s first order of business is to dismantle the elite squad

Khumalo could not be drawn to comment on the matter.

Chetty could not be reached for comment at the time of going to print.

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