Three major construction projects in Mnquma local municipality in the Eastern Cape that cost the municipality millions of rands are a source of worry for the community: a community hall built four years ago yet to be handed to the community, a taxi rank that is unsuitable as it causes traffic jams and a driving licence testing station that is yet to be completed.
Residents of Mpukane village in Ngqamakhwe have been waiting in vain since 2017 for the Thalami Civils-built community hall to be opened and the completion of the drivers licence testing centre. Elitsha has been covering construction projects by Thalami Civils in which the company has used sub-standard material but charged the Eastern Cape municipalities millions of rands. The first project was the Lesseyton sports field in Enoch Mgijima municipality and another sports field in Khowa under Sakhisizwe municipality.
Mnquma municipal spokesperon, Loyiso Mpalantshane said this community hall has cost the local municipality R3.1-million. On its website, however, Thalami Civils states that the community hall it was contracted to build cost the municipality an amount of R35-million. The company has in some media reports disputed the amount saying that it was not captured correctly, that it was only a matter of a missing comma. That is, the community hall cost 3,5-million and not R35-million as reflected on their website. When Elitsha visited Mpukane a week ago, we observed the community hall does not have electricity and some of the windows are broken. The grass around the hall was high and by all appearances, the facility was untended.
Mpukane resident Dumisani Mhlophe said there’s no way the Mpukane community hall could cost R35-million or R3-million for that matter. “We do not have a community hall to attend our meetings. Sassa [South African Social Services Agency] officials are forced to use a shop for our payments while we have a community hall but we can’t use it because it does not have electricity,” he said.
Mpalantshane did not say when electricity will be installed in Mpukane Community hall.
Useless taxi rank
Also in Ngqamakhwe town, there’s a taxi rank built in 2018. According to residents, the construction company left early in 2020 and has not return to the site. Information shared to Elitsha newspaper by a source who would like to remain anonymous shows that:
In 2018/19 the budget for the taxi rank was R2.4mIn 2019/2020 it was R2.20mIn 2020/2021 budget is R2.32mAnd again in the current financial year, the construction project has been allocated R2.45m.
Chairperson of Ngqamakhwe taxi association, Phumzile Jwathi said they have been inquiring about the taxi rank since last year but the Mnquma Municipality never provided proper answers. “At first we were told that the taxi rank is finished but we had complaints because the entrance and way out is the same gate and that will cause too much traffic. We asked the municipality to open another gate on the opposite side, which they promised to do it last year but the contractor left and has not returned.” They tried again this year but in vain. “Including the mayor he no longer takes our calls when we call him,” he said.
Jwathi said the taxi rank will be of great assistance to the taxi drivers. “This town is very small but surrounded with a number of villages. The taxi rank will help fight the traffic on our main road. It’s so sad that they decided to ignore us. Now we don’t know when they are planning to hand it over to us,” he said.
Mpalantshane said the contractor will return at the earliest ‘convenience’.
The contractor building Ngqamakhwe taxi rank left in 2020 and has not returned.
Incomplete driver’s licence testing centre
Butterworth residents say they have been waiting for the local municipality to finish the construction of the Butterworth driving license testing centre since 2015. Community leader Collygen Daniso said the first construction company was awarded a tender of R10.5-million in 2015 to build the centre.
Daniso said the first construction company left the site in 2017. Another construction company took over in 2018. Elitsha visited the site a week ago. The building is being vandalised, from its roofing to the boundary wall.
Mpalantshane said the vandalism was reported to them and the municipality has since beefed up security and is currently fixing the damage. But when we visited this site there was no contractor working or security guards. Residents we interviewed told this reporter that the construction company left the site in 2020.
Mpalantshane said the testing centre comes with examination classrooms, a testing area for learner drivers, a boardroom, paved driveways, 24-hour security, and internet connectivity. He said the first construction company left an unfinished job. “As far as I knows the company was not paid the full amount.”
On a statement issued to our reporter, Mnquma municipality manager, Silumko Mahlasela said the construction of the centre had many setbacks, including court challenges and squabbles between contractors.
Mpalantshane said the first contractor was appointed during the previous administration and they were taken to court after the contractor failed to honour obligations which included inability to complete the job. “A competent contractor was appointed to complete the job. The job is done except for a few minor touch ups,” he said.
Mpalantshane said the opening of the Butterworth licence centre is expected at the end of February next year.
But Mnquma residents said each year the municipality has been promising to open the driver’s license testing centre. Daniso said, “I guess we will have to wait and see if they are going to open it. To be honest I don’t think the opening of this centre will happen any time soon; people have lost hope.”
Another resident, Siluleke Made said, “Last year municipality promised to open the centre but that did not happened. When we went to inquire they blamed the lockdown.
“In Eastern Cape applying for a learner’s license costs close to R300; now you have to spend another R600 on top of that for travelling. Remember you first go for a booking then come back then go to write a test. Most people they don’t have such amounts of money,” said Made, adding that he missed his test date because he could not afford to go to East London. “This is very frustrating and we were happy when they promised to build this driver’s license centre. But this municipality is full of people who feed themselves they do not care about the voters,” he said.
Mpalantshane said the municipality wishes not to be drawn into negative media reports that have the potential to cast aspersions on management or possibly portray the current leadership as not up to the task. The current administration has done its level best to turn around the fortunes of this municipality and win back the confidence of all stakeholders. “Our audit results, which improved from a disclaimer in 2017/18 to an unqualified audit to date, are testament to the good work that has been done to rescue this municipality from historical challenges. New roads have been built and over 80% of rural homes connected to the electricity grid; refuse collection continues 24/7 and a myriad other services are being rolled out to beneficiaries. To this end, we remain focused on delivering decent quality services to the people of Mnquma in line with our constitutional mandate,” he said.