Ditsobotla mayor resigns hours after being elected to lead failing municipality

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The Ditsobotla municipality building in Lichtenburg, North West.
The Ditsobotla municipality building in Lichtenburg, North West.
PHOTO: Susan Cilliers
  • Ditsobotla Mayor Elizabeth Lethoko resigned from her post mere hours after being elected.
  • She was elected as part of a coalition agreement with the ANC.
  • She resigned after a "surprise" tabling of appointing the administrator as the municipal manager.

New Ditsobotla Mayor Elizabeth Lethoko resigned from her post mere hours after being elected.

Lethoko was elected on Monday in the council sitting, which saw a coalition between the ANC and the Patriotic Alliance.

The embattled North West municipality has been run into the ground after a feud in council in 2020 saw two mayors and two separate councils trying to run the area.

In the last two years, the municipality was led by both Tsholofelo Moreo and Tebogo Buthelezi from the ANC. 

The council removed Buthelezi in December 2020 in a vote of no confidence and elected Moreo as the new mayor.

READ | Contract workers allegedly throw documents belonging to municipality in North West onto the street

Buthelezi then decided to go to court and was reinstated. However, he was removed again by the ANC caucus through another motion of no confidence, and Moreo was reinstated.

The municipality was dissolved in September, and an election was held in December.

For the first time since 1994, the election saw the ANC fail to win an outright majority in the municipality. It received 39.82% of the votes, down from 51% in the 2021 polls.

Residents have seemingly had enough of poor service delivery, which results in intermittent electricity - over and above the load shedding. The power loss affects the pumps transporting water to residents' homes.

The roads are so eroded that there's hardly any visible tar. Sewage and uncollected waste are strewn all over the area.

In a statement on Monday, the PA said it fully supported the mayor's resignation.

"It would be unconscionable of her to have continued in this role following the display of blatant corruption in council today. She could not be complicit in such behaviour, nor be asked to answer for it."

Lethoko tendered her resignation in writing to the speaker, Fikile Jakeni.

She wrote: 

As you well know, following the conclusion of all the items on the council agenda, a surprise matter was tabled - that of appointing the administrator as the municipal manager.

"At no point did the ANC - your party - raise this important matter with me or the Patriotic Alliance's president, Gayton McKenzie, who was present all day in the Ditsobotla council for such important coalition discussions.

"I must agree that the EFF was correct in protesting against the tabling of this matter, since any additional items should have been tabled through an addendum.

"The manner in which this was performed was duplicitous in the extreme and was clearly intended to sidestep proper council procedures. The Public Protector will find against this administration if we go about conducting our appointments in such an irregular fashion.

"The Patriotic Alliance will not be associated with underhanded tactics, which, one can only presume, are intended to cover up corruption in Ditsobotla."

She added that the coalition government should not exist to protect wrongdoers from going to jail:

If they have a case to answer for, they should be prosecuted and serve their sentences like the law-defying criminals they are.

"The current state of the municipality is a patent disgrace: bucket toilets everywhere, old women who need to carry water on their heads, potholes like lunar craters. 

"There were indeed issues in the municipality during my previous tenure, but the rate of decline and despair that has ensued in subsequent years broke my heart. I was looking forward to the opportunity to restore our municipality as a going concern instead of just being concerned at the direction it is going."

'We do not baiza'

Lethoko said she did not blame the ANC's national leadership, which she said was supportive of the PA-led coalition in the municipality.

"As we have seen with other agreements, these coalitions are being undermined at the local level by leaders more interested in both lining their own pockets and covering up how they have lined them in the past," she said.

"It is obvious that whatever attempts were made to renew the ANC here through the rerun of elections has not been a success. As a result, I shall now work in opposition to this local ANC leadership, with the full support of my party.

"The PA Is willing to work in coalition with any party, but not at the expense of its integrity, and it will not be a party to corruption.

"We do not baiza," she said using the PA slogan, "Ons baiza nie", meaning "we are scared of nothing".

According to a 2016 article in the Mail & Guardian, in 2015, Lethoko was convicted by the Lichtenburg Regional Court of fraud and contravening the Municipal Finance Management Act after attempting to influence the council's CFO to pay for her birthday party with municipal funds in 2007.

There was also a finding that she and a second party had tried to influence the CFO for R200 000 in irregular expenditure.

According to the publication, she was sentenced to a R10 000 fine or five years in prison.

Lethoko is a former member of the ANC.

In an interview with SAFM on Tuesday morning, the PA's Kenny Kunene said they were aware of Lethoko's past.

"Whatever she was accused of is in the past. We are a party of second chances. People made mistakes in the past," he said.

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