Union leaders flee homes after suspected VBS killings

Fearing for their lives, union bosses have allegedly gone into hiding following last week’s murder of Roland Mani, the deputy secretary of the SA Municipal Workers’ Union (Samwu) in Limpopo.

His death comes a few days after the fatal shooting of the union’s former Limpopo chairperson, Timson Tshililo.

Mani and Tshililo were employed by the Vhembe District Municipality, which is one of the municipalities that broke the law by depositing millions of public funds into the now-defunct VBS Mutual Bank.

According to police, Mani was gunned down with a pistol in Thohoyandou on Wednesday night. Earlier that day, he had apparently attended a meeting at the Vhembe district municipal office.

Tshililo was shot as he was entering his home in Makwarela, near Thohoyandou, almost two weeks ago.

He was rushed to hospital, where he succumbed to his injuries last week, just hours after Mani’s murder.

The recent killings come just two months after Thabang Maupa – an ANC Ward 5 councillor in the Fetakgomo Tubatse Local Municipality – was gunned down as he was closing his restaurant in November.

Maupa was a fierce critic of the VBS looters and waged a spirited social media campaign against the looting. His killers are still at large.

Labour federation Cosatu, along with Samwu, believe the killings are linked to the latter’s tough stance against municipal officials implicated in the looting of VBS.

“We have heard that some of our shop stewards are not even sleeping at their homes any more, for fear of being attacked by these criminals,” said Samwu’s national spokesperson, Papikie Mohale.

Mohale, who could not confirm the number of officials on the run, said Samwu provincial secretary Patrick Aphane’s house was fired on by unknown assailants in December.

No one was injured in the incident. Aphane declined to comment, saying only that the union’s statement would suffice for now.

In December, Limpopo premier Stan Mathabatha fired the mayors of the seven municipalities that deposited public funds totalling R2.6 billion into VBS, in violation of municipal finance regulations and in disregard of warnings by National Treasury.

The mayors were from Makhado, Vhembe, Fetakgomo Tubatse, Collins Chabane, Makhuduthamaga, Giyani and Elias Motsoaledi municipalities. However, the fired mayors have retained their positions as councillors.

In total, 11 municipalities invested their funds with the bank, but four managed to withdraw the funds before the bank went bust as a result of a looting spree by politically connected individuals. The cases linked to VBS are being probed by the Hawks and the Asset Forfeiture Unit.

Samwu has staged a vociferous campaign to have those implicated in the saga arrested. The union now believes this is the reason its leaders are being targeted.

“There is a link [between the VBS matter and the killings],” said Mohale.

He could not confirm if any of the slain leaders had received threats before they were eventually attacked.

Provincial police spokesperson Brigadier Motlafela Mojapelo said a motive for the killings had not yet been established. “This will become clearer once the suspects are apprehended. We may therefore not speculate.”

He said police “have decided to heighten visibility and patrols around certain identified areas”.

Mathabatha announced the formation of a task team to investigate the killings.

His spokesperson, Kenny Mathivha, said Mathabatha had called a meeting with the security cluster on Thursday to get an update on investigations into the murders and the attempted murder cases involving union officials.

When asked if Mathabatha agreed with Samwu’s assertion that the killings were linked to the VBS saga, Mathivha said: “It is a possibility, but there may be other things. The task team is looking at other people being hired to kill because of rivalry, tenders and jobs.”

He said Mathabatha would be briefed when there was a breakthrough.

Mohale said it appeared that the killers were targeting individuals in the union’s leadership who were demanding that those implicated in the VBS scandal be charged.

He declined to say if security had been organised for Samwu’s leaders, saying it was a sensitive issue.

Mohale said the union, which staged marches in all the municipalities implicated in the VBS saga, would continue its campaign to have those implicated arrested.

– Mukurukuru Media


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