Town hall torching probed

Mpumalanga police are investigating the torching of a town hall, an incident that could point to the resurgence of service delivery protests just before the 2011 local government elections.

A group of protesters in Emakhazeni municipality, Belfast, allegedly demanded the removal of councillors before ­setting fire to the R500 000 hall – the oldest building in the 120-year-old town – on December 28.

Provincial police spokesperson ­Captain Leonard Hlathi has not ruled out an outbreak of violent protests ahead of municipal elections.

“Anything is possible,” Hlathi said. “Before this incident there were people who were chanting slogans that said they wanted to do away with councillors.”

No one had been arrested and the ­motive for the incident was not known.

No fewer than 12 protests engulfed ­Mpumalanga municipalities between February 2009 and June last year, causing R38 million in damage to government properties and councillors’ homes.

There are still questions over whether the protests were based on service ­delivery issues or ANC infighting.

Premier David Mabuza’s sympathisers say the protests were funded by his rivals to discredit his leadership.

Rival politicians say Mabuza’s camp fuelled the unrest as a way to expunge opponents from influential positions, particularly in Nkangala, the stronghold of provincial ANC ­deputy chairperson Charles Makola.

Emakhazeni’s mayor, Linkie Mohlala, said: “I see this as the continuation of the last protests.

Certain individuals ­expect rewards for their role in ­destabilising municipalities.

“I am not sure what more I can do because when there were protests in 2009 I wrote reports to national and provincial governments, but no one responded.”

In that year, Emakhazeni protesters burned a council office and a library in Siyathuthuka township.

City Press is in possession of a scathing letter that Mohlala wrote to former co-operative governance and traditional affairs MEC Norman Mokoena and Mabuza, accusing the former of ­“destabilising” Emakhazeni.

Mohlala said Mokoena, who is now economic development MEC, sent his staff to meet protesters and help them draft grievances.

She wrote: “We are convinced that your lack of interest in the matters ­communicated to you in the report of ­October 12, 2009, is a clear indication that you knew about these even prior to them happening. We are further convinced that you even know the agenda of the hooligans who, through your office, are destabilising our municipality.”

Mokoena has dismissed the allegations as “mischievous”.

Similar concerns were also raised in Dr JS Moroka municipality (Siyabuswa), where manager Monica Mathibela’s R1.4-million house was torched on June 29. The day after this, she was ­suspended without charges.

Simphiwe Kunene, spokesperson for the provincial co-operative governance and traditional affairs department, and David Mahlobo, the head of the ­department, did not respond to ­questions about the protests.

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