5 mayors in less than 5 years

Esther Mothibi
Esther Mothibi

After this week’s election, Mogalakwena Local Municipality in Mokopane, Limpopo, will get its fifth mayor in less than five years.

It has been an eventful term for one of Limpopo’s most troubled municipalities, marred by ANC infighting, factionalism and allegations of corruption.

Not only did Mogalakwena have a mayor surrounded by 27 heavily armed bodyguards at one stage, it also had two mayors at the same time.

Things were not always this dire. Mogalakwena received three unqualified audit opinions with findings (the audit opinion below a clean audit) in the five financial years since 2010/11.

However, in the 2014/15 financial year, it received a disclaimer of audit opinion, which is the worst of the five audit opinions expressed by the Auditor-General.

It all started in 2012, when the ANC appointed Tlhalefi Mashamaite as mayor after the governing party ordered Esther Mothibi to resign.

At the time, signs of factionalism among ANC councillors were beginning to emerge. One group was opposed to Mashamaite’s appointment.

Eventually, that group voted with the opposition to order that a forensic audit be conducted. It implicated Mashamaite in alleged financial misuse.

The same ANC faction subsequently voted with the opposition for Mashamaite’s removal. He was replaced by William Mabuela, who was later expelled by the ANC along with 22 other councillors who were anti-Mashamaite.

One of the revelations in the KPMG forensic report was that Mashamaite had acquired 12 000 T-shirts worth more than R800 000 for a municipal “outreach gathering” in a questionable procurement process.

This was on top of a R1 million invoice – for Mashamaite’s army of bodyguards – which was left for the municipality to pay.

Following the report, the anti-Mashamaite group teamed up with opposition parties and went on to successfully vote him out.

He was replaced by Mabuela, who became the third mayor of Mogalakwena in almost three years. In a bid to deal with the situation, the governing party stepped in and the 23 ANC councillors who had voted Mashamaite out of office were expelled.

Before the councillors’ expulsion, Mabuela and Mashamaite had each claimed to be the rightful mayor.

Mashamaite triumphed after Mabuela and his group were expelled by the ANC, following their refusal to follow party orders to leave office.

The ANC, however, later found itself overwhelmed by growing pressure to remove Mashamaite amid allegations of corruption – which he has denied – and the negative publicity he attracted for having a throng of bodyguards.

Six months after reinstating him, the party removed Mashamaite, replacing him with the current mayor, Parks Sebatjane, in June 2015.

But Sebatjane, who has had many fires to put out, will not be returning as mayor after this week’s election. The ANC in Limpopo has named Andrina Matsemela as his successor.

Meanwhile, the Mogalakwena Residents Association will contest the election, it said, after failing to influence the ANC to promote accountability and fight corruption in Mogalakwena.

Spokesperson for the residents association Oscar Ratombo has blamed the ANC and “corrupt officials” for the municipality’s problems.

“There is a lot at stake here, with people fighting for control of the municipality so that they can benefit from tenders and ... relations with mining companies. The instability from all this has badly affected service delivery – water is still a challenge in many areas here.”

Mogalakwena’s former municipal manager, William Kekana, who was fired by Mashamaite, said he was pushed out because he refused to endorse corruption.

“They were saying, either I open up [the] administration to enable them to eat or they get rid of me. I refused to comply with things like paying for 10km of road construction when only 5km was delivered,” said Kekana.

Kekana, who had the support of an ANC faction, has been out of a job since late 2014.

He has been engaged in legal battles with the municipality in a bid to return.

ANC provincial spokesperson Aluwani Netsianda said the ANC was satisfied that political stability had been restored. “With the political deployment for the new term, we are confident that Mogalakwena [will] be able to execute its mandate to the residents efficiently.”

Netsianda added: “Allegations of corruption remain allegations until their credibility is tested and proven to be factual through a credible process.”

The DA’s constituency leader for Mogalakwena, Beyers Smit, disagreed that the municipality was stable. “The ANC is fighting with itself constantly over who should benefit from tenders,”
he said.

The municipality failed to respond to a request for comment. The cooperative governance department in Limpopo would not comment on Mogalakwena, saying that it was “stable”.

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