EXCLUSIVE: Free State’s defunct municipality: Has Matjhabeng hit rock bottom?

Kgosana Moeketsi
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The bubble is about to burst on a financial crisis that will soon collapse the cash-strapped Matjhabeng local municipality, as the defunct municipality is on a brink of collapse amid delayed salary payments, lack of service delivery, debts and cashflow crisis.

SANCO has raised its concerns over reports of alleged political interference in the administration of Matjhabeng municipality by its executive mayor, Thanduxolo Khalipa. Furthermore, they called for restraint of the executive mayor and for an open and accountable governance in Matjhabeng.

Before diving into all the crisis facing the municipality, let us take a look at the administration and leadership of the flawed municipality.

Administrative mismanagement

The current administration is under what one might call the ‘lack of leadership’ of Thanduxolu Khalipa, who assumed the mayoral office in 2021, following local elections. Khalipa’s administration did not have the greatest start, given the troubles it inherited from the previous administration of Nkonsinjani Speelman.

In September, the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) went to assess the situation in the municipality. Following their findings, the NCOP wrote a letter to the Free State premier, Mxolisi Dukwana and his provincial executive, asking for their intervention as per Section 139 of the constitution – which allows the provincial and national governments to intervene in instances where a municipality has crumbled.

The Free State CoGTA MEC, Ketso Madumelane, says they believe the NCOP had limited information for them to advise the enforcement of Section 139. According to Madumelane, the municipality under Khalipa’s administration is making progress in uprooting corruption and enhancing service delivery. In an interview with eNCA, the MEC further pointed out an incident where three officials found to have been acting outside the interest of the municipality got suspended.

“The municipality had made a point that the infrastructure theft is on the rise. There are investigations by both the Hawks and the SIU to try and clear this information,” added Madumelane.

According to Madumelane, the office of the premier says it cannot just apply Section 139, instead they ask to be afforded the chance to apply Section 154 which allows the departments, the provincial and national governments to give support to municipalities on what they are doing,” adding that it is a legislative decision that needs to be taken.

Even though the MEC insists that the Matjhabeng Municipality is working towards progress, the citizens and the reality they are living do not agree. It has been revealed that out of the 11 water treatment plants, only three work. There are more than 50 smaller stations and a mere 13 work.

Cash-strapped Matjhabeng drowning in debts

According to NCOP, the municipality is currently drowning in a collective debt of more than R10.27 billion, of which R5 billion is owed to Eskom and another R5 billion owed to Bloemwater. Various other service providers are said to be owed an estimate of more than R270 million.

In August, the municipality added a fleet of vehicles consisting of a refuse truck, four TLB’s and two tractors said to be for the use of waste and water management. It is important to note that since the new administration, more than 68 fleet of vehicles has been acquired with the tag price of a whooping R100 million. This large fleet includes tipper trucks, TLBs, front-end loaders and bakkies among others.

However, an unpaid attached 24 vehicles worth R41 million in September.

Matjhabeng employees down tools due to cashflow crisis

On Wednesday, October 25th, hundreds of municipal workers woke up to the shock of their October salaries not paid. After two days with no changes, the frustrated employees downed the tools and marched to the municipal buildings on Friday, October 27th. During the march, tyres were burned, thousands of rands worth of property was destroyed and trash bins were emptied on the municipal premises.

Coincidentally, on the day of the march, Miss Goldfields held a pageant in the Ferdie Meyer Hall at the municipal premises. The disgruntled workers crashed the event and vandalised the hall. Petrified contestants and guests had to flee the premises as the situation escalated. As a result, the pageant had to be cancelled and postponed to Saturday evening at a different venue.

Troubled municipality battle to eradicate criminal acts

In the recent years, citizens of Matjhabeng have lived lives plunged with all sorts of crime, with common assault, house break-ins and business robberies as some of the leading illicit activities. Safety has become a term unfamiliar to the citizens of this municipality. Many have turned to private security as refuge.

However, the citizens are not the only ones battling crime, the infrastructure has seen safer days. Cable theft and vandalism are other major issues setting municipality three steps backwards after taking one forward. Welkom and Virginia have experienced these cable thefts the most, resulting in load shedding at affected areas. In some instances, it takes the municipality more than a day to replace the cables, leaving residents without electricity during that time.

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