Municipality ‘bankrupt’

The DA in the Free State has welcomed the placing of the cash-strapped Maluti-a-Phofung Local Municipality under a Section 139 (1)(b) intervention as a matter of urgent action.

This follows protests by aggrieved municipal workers demanding their salaries after the trouble-ridden ANC-led municipality failed to pay.

The protest was marred by violence and police members were deployed to restore law and order when people began looting shops and stealing goods and spate of burglaries atat shopping centres in Qwaqwa and Harrismith.

The protest caused panic from Tuesday, 6 February, to Thursday, 8 February.

Facing pressure from political parties such as the DA, the EFF, labour organisations and civil society, the Free State’s MEC for Cooperative Governance, Human Settlements and Traditional Affairs (Coghsta), Sisi Ntombela, suggested intervention following mounting pressure in sharp criticism across the spectrum.

“The municipality is bankrupt. It owes Eskom more than R2 billion and the water board almost R240 million,” says Leona Kleynhans, DA member of the provincial legislature.

“The municipality is also unable to pay the salaries of municipal workers.”

Aggrieved workers have been on a strike for two weeks demanding their salaries.

During this period, the workers reportedly could not get any response from the mayor, Vusi Tshabalala.

His leadership, including the executive committee, acting municipal manager and acting chief financial officer, have all been missing in action.

“The situation in the Maluti-a-Phofung Local Municipality has deteriorated drastically,” Kleynhans says.

“Concerned residents embarked on a violent protest and demanded that Tshabalala resign immediately. Communities are left without even the most basic of service delivery – they are left without water and electricity. such as water and electricity.

The protest claimed the life of one person who was reportedly shot.

The protest was further marred by criminal events of looting of shops and spate of burglaries which troop of police deployed to restore law and order.

Sgt Mmako Mophiring, spokesperson of the Phuthaditjhaba police cluster, says over 57 people were arrested for incidents ranging from theft, looting and burglary at shops at businesses in Qwaqwa and Harrismith.

“A total of 26 suspects were arrested after they had been found inside the shops during the night.

“Suspects were also arrested at shops after they had been caught with the intention of stealing. he were burglaries at shops at which suspects were caught and the intention of the suspects was to steal. Clothes, accessories and groceries were discovered, all of which were suspected to be stolen.”

As the police failed to receive any application for the protest, Mophiring says the protest was declared illegal.

“The worrying factor is that criminals took advantage of the strike by looting businesses while the workers were protesting at their work stations.”

The municipality is bankrupt. It owes Eskom more than R2 billion and the water board almost R240 million. It is also unable to pay the salaries of municipal workers. – Leona Kleynhans

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