‘Enoch Mgijima Municipality is collapsing’

Queenstown residents closed roads to Mlungisi township and Ezibeleni, demanding better services. Photo by Nombulelo Damba-Hendrik

Residents of Queenstown want the troubled Enoch Mgijima Local Municipality to be placed under administration because of financial mismanagement and its failure to deliver services. At least 44 municipal assets worth millions – including fire brigade and garbage collection vehicles and road graders – were auctioned off to pay a construction company that built a community hall in Sterkstroom back in 2016.

Queenstown, South Africa

Residents of Queenstown want the troubled Enoch Mgijima Local Municipality to be placed under administration over financial mismanagement. At least 44 municipal assets worth millions – including fire brigade and garbage collection vehicles and road graders – were auctioned off to pay a construction company that built a community hall in Sterkstroom back in 2016. This is after the Grahamstown High Court granted a writ of execution to attach R58-million worth of assets to pay the six-year old debt to the company.

Milowo Trading, the civil engineering company which built the community hall, is still owed R14.2-million. R17-million was also paid to Eskom to cover some of more than R40-million that the municipality owes for electricity. The municipality is so deep in financial trouble, it is planning to sell more of its assets.

Residents charge the municipality with failing to deliver basic services while it drowns in debt and is collapsing.

Ongoing protests by Queenstown residents has seen seventeen women and four men arrested for public violence. They were released on warning on Tuesday. The residents are demanding that the EMLM Mayor Sisisi Tolashe and her mayoral committee step down. Their memorandum submitted to Tolashe in Queenstown City Hall calls for a forensic investigation into municipal finances.

Amanda Habe from Ezibeleni location said matters have become worse instead of improving. She said there’s a lack of service delivery in Queenstown as a whole and unemployment is increasing almost daily. “We are tired of keeping quiet while our town is going down because of corrupt leadership,” she said. Habe said roads to Ezibeleni have potholes while the money is going into some individuals’ pockets.

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“We are saying enough is enough. This leadership must be disbanded and the municipality must be put under administration. We recently found out that these people spent R250,000 just for hiring chairs, tables and a tent for the State of Municipality Address,” she added.

Another resident, Yandisa Gwele from Bhekela location said as residents they want electricity, water and all potholes to be fixed. He said that Bhekela is always the last to get any service delivery. “Our electricity is on and off, sometimes we will be out of electricity for days while other areas like Zones get their electricity back,” he said.

He felt that the protest action taken by residents will not stop until national government intervenes.

The Ezibeleni community hall was set alight. Photo by Nombulelo Damba-Hendrik

EMLM made headlines when Eskom threatened to suspend the bulk electricity supply to the municipality over millions owes by the municipality. To date, EMLM has not said how it is going to pay the rest of its debt to Eskom. According to the Democratic Alliance in Queenstown, the local municipality has failed to meet last week’s deadline to make another payment and the town is now facing an electricity cut.

Last week the Democratic Alliance and Economic Freedom Fighters walked out of the mayor’s State of the Municipality address to protest the mismanagement of EMLM after they learned that she splurged R250,000 on the event.

In its statement, the DA said the Auditor-General found over R1-billion in irregular, unauthorised, fruitless and wasteful expenditure which the Council tried to write off in March. The Auditor-General report also exposed over R3.2-million that was paid to 10 ANC councillors from September 2016 to February 2018 after they were illegally appointed by the previous mayor as full-time councillors.

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This municipality is also experiencing water problems with the main supply dam, Bonkolo at its lowest even though surrounding dams were almost full in April this year.

Tiloshe acknowledged receipt of the residents’ memorandum and promised to pass it to the relevant people. She did confirm that few municipal assets will be sold off to pay another debt. The EMLM came into being in 2016 after three poor municipalities – Tsolwana, Inkwanca and Lukhanji – were merged. The municipality acquired this debt from Inkwanca municipality after failed court bids to declare that it does not owe Milowo Tradings. “We had no option than to pay,” she said.

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