Murder, Lies and Corruption: Mbombela and the Bequeathal of the ANC's 'Family' War

By Dale T. McKinley · 9 Sep 2011

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Picture credit: wikistadiums
Picture credit: wikistadiums

There are few conflicts - especially when money, power and ego are at their centres - that are more intense, brutal and destructive than those involving family members. In this sense, and in case we might have forgotten, at the heart of the more recent and ongoing battles between the incumbent ANC leadership and their Youth League counterparts lies a long-running and ongoing internecine war within the broad ‘family’ of the ANC itself. As shocked and disappointed as many - both within and outside of the ANC - might have been with the scenes in the vicinity of Luthuli House, these are simply the latest manifestations of the kind of behaviour that is part of a much deeper and longer-term ‘family’ conflict.

Nowhere has this organic conflict and its associated behavioural patterns been more widely practiced than in the province of Mpumalanga and more specifically, its capital Mbombela. Going all the way back to the mid-1990s, there has been a series of corruption scandals, general mismanagement at all levels of governance and political factionalism within the governing ANC resulting in several attempted disappearances/unsolved deaths, assassinations, massive looting of public monies and outrageous abuse of poor communities. There is no better practical example of how this inter-familial conflict has played itself out than the ‘story’ surrounding Mbombela’s 2010 Soccer World Cup stadium. 

It started in 2006 when then mayor Justice Nsibande along with a small crew of council officials identified a section of the Matsafeni community’s land just outside Mbombela as the preferred site for the stadium’s construction. Before any questions could be asked Nsibande announced that a deal had been struck and in quick step, the municipality had cleared the site, forcibly evicted Matsafeni students from their two schools into prefabricated classrooms, appointed (and paid) both the project managers and professional team and put out the tender for the main construction work. 

It didn’t take long for the Matsafeni community to figure out that something was seriously rotten and questions began to be raised. In response, Nsibande and his coterie ‘threatened to forcefully remove the community to a new settlement 21 kilometres away in virgin bush, while simultaneously secretly negotiating an illegal sales agreement for just R1 with the (disputed) chairman of the Matsafeni Trust’. As some of the details of the land deal began to emerge, Mbombela Council Speaker Jimmy Mohlala publicly opposed it as illegal and also raised questions in relation to tens of millions of rands in quick-fire payments to the stadium project’s professional team, Lefika Emerging Equity (run by none other than Bobby Motaung, son of well-known soccer supremo, Kaizer Motaung). 

The gaudy arrogance and more sinister subterfuge went much deeper though. In a 2007 report, a provincial local government and housing investigation team found that in addition to serious problems with the management of municipal funds for service delivery and the municipality’s over-extension of its 2010 stadium construction budget there were major irregularities in the awarding of tenders for all aspects of the stadium. This was soon followed by an early 2008 independent forensic report into the conduct of municipal manager Jacob Dladla and suspected irregularities associated with the stadium project which laid bare the sordid ‘story’ of managerial malfeasance, outrageous conflict of interest and unmitigated greed. Next up was the Matsafeni community whose successful High Court interdict against the unilateral transfer of their land saw the presiding judge accuse elements within the Mbombela Municipality and Provincial Cabinet of acting like colonialist-era ‘land grabbing politicians’, stating angrily that, ‘I will not let this kind of thing happen again, not in this day and age’.

Yet, in spite of these clearly documented exposés, regional and provincial ANC leaders (supported by the silence from the ANC’s national leadership) arrogantly dismissed all of them, proceeded to verbally attack and practically intimidate those who dared speak up/act and moved to protect the identified culprits. Led by then provincial ANC chairperson David Mabuza (now Provincial Premier), it was announced that disciplinary proceedings against the outspoken Jimmy Mohlala would be pursued while simultaneously moves were made to halt the Council’s disciplinary process against Jacob Dladla. 

A few weeks later in January 2009, Jimmy Mohlala was shot dead in his home while his 19-year-old son, Tshepiso, was injured. Not surprisingly, the day after Mohlala’s murder provincial ANC spokesperson Paul Mbenyane issued a statement claiming that it would be ‘irresponsible’ for anyone to suggest that Mohlala’s death was in any way politically motivated. This was soon followed by the interrogation and reported beating/torture of Mohlala’s widow and her children evidently to try and extract confessions. Despite newly appointed Mbombela mayor Lassy Chiwayo’s widely publicised statement that he believed the murder was a ‘professional hit by people intent on silencing Mohlala’ and his call for a national high-level investigation there was no positive response from the national structures of the ANC or from the national intelligence and police services. To this day, no one has been tried and convicted on Mohlala’s murder

Meanwhile, the Mbombela Municipality’s promises to deliver basic services to the Matsafeni community were being exposed for the cruel chimera they were, with the municipality publicly admitting that the bulk water services project had not even started because the majority of the funds allocated had already been used for other aspects of the 2010 World Cup project. To add to the misery of the Matsafeni community, there was still the ‘small’ problem of the now years-long wait for formal school buildings which saw students burning down their oven-like prefabricated ‘classrooms’ and the community clashing with the police on numerous occasions. 

When the municipality finally handed over the finished school buildings to the Matsafeni community - barely two weeks before the start of the World Cup in July 2010 - nobody mentioned the impact of the entire saga on the students themselves which saw the matric pass rate at the secondary school plummeting from 85 percent in 2008 to just 44 percent in 2009. Indeed, having spent an estimated R2 billion of public monies on the 2010 World Cup project, it was revealed soon after the end of the actual tournament that the municipality had used its service funds for various 2010 projects and had thus been forced to apply for a R200 million loan from the Development Bank of South Africa to ‘keep afloat after the tournament’. To this day, the demands of the Matsafeni community, as they have been since the day the stadium project gate-crashed their land and lives, are as basic as their needs; clean running water, RDP houses, electricity and proper roads.

Almost a year to the day after Mohlala’s murder, Sammy Mpatlanyane, deputy director of communications in the Provincial Department of Culture, Sports and Recreation was gunned down outside his home. This time, however, it appeared that it was the outrageous R20 million tender for Mbombela’s 2010 World Cup fan park that provided the context and cause. A police source involved in the investigation let slip to local journalists that the murder was potentially linked to Mpatlanyane’s refusal to award the tender to ‘a friend of a prominent ANC leader in the province’. In the event, the tender went to Pasqa Africa whose director, Izak van der Walt, was a long-time close business associate of Nonhlanhla Patience Mnisi, the wife of new Mpumalanga premier, David Mabuza. Just as with Mohala’s murder, no one has ever been tried and convicted. 

When investigative journalists began to dig up more dirt on key players in the ANC’s ever widening ‘family’ feud, they were arrested, detained, threatened and in the case of Sizwesama Yende of City Press, narrowly escaped a gunman who ‘ambushed him at his Mbombela home’. Not surprisingly, whistle-blowers who spoke to some of the journalists indicated that they ‘were afraid to give information to the police because they did not know which faction of the party [ANC] the law enforcement agents supported’. The cynical response of the ANC’s regional executive leadership was to recommend the recall one of the few ANC politicians – Mbombela mayor Lassy Chiwayo - who had displayed some integrity and courage in publicly confronting the deadly and toxic politics of his own organisation. 

No sooner had the actual 2010 World Cup ended than ex-ANCYL leader James Nkambule, who was reportedly negotiating to have an alleged contract killer he claimed had been hired by a senior ANC politician placed in witness protection, died under suspicious circumstances. Nkambule had been due to go on trial a week later where he would have had the chance to openly testify about the alleged ANC hit list. An autopsy carried out by the province’s chief medical officer soon thereafter concluded that Nkambule’s death was ‘unnatural’ due to ‘white foamy material [and] brownish fluid, suggestive of … poison ingestion’ being found in his body. And yes, you guessed right, no one has ever been tried and convicted for Nkambule’s murder. 

As more recent events within and across the ANC’s ‘family’ so clearly confirm, the personal and collectively hyper-corrosive and devastating effects of corruption, murder and lies that so blighted Mbombela’s 2010 World Cup project are not about to come to an end. If anything, the ANC’s ‘family’ war is probably going to get even nastier and that means there’s also going to be a lot more ‘collateral damage’.

*This article is adapted from, ‘Mbombela: Corruption, murder, false promises and resistance’, a chapter in the book, South Africa’s World Cup: A Legacy for Whom’ to be published later this month by UKZN Press.

Dr. McKinley is an independent writer, researcher and lecturer as well as political activist.

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MN
9 Sep

Sobering Indeed

Incredible stuff. Add this together with the attack on AbM, the rolling back of liberal democratic rights and so on and its a very, very ugly picture of the future that emerges...

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