Another citizen group takes its local municipality to court

Written by Ciaran Ryan. Posted in Journalism

In this case to get rid of a municipal manager who just won’t leave, despite repeated accusations of mismanagement. From Moneyweb.

A legal opinion commissioned by the municipality itself found that the municipal manager does not have the required qualifications. Image: Mamusa Local Municipality website

A legal opinion commissioned by the municipality itself found that the municipal manager does not have the required qualifications. Image: Mamusa Local Municipality website

It seems the citizens of North West province have had it with dysfunctional local governments.

Moneyweb recently reported on a judgment in the Mmabatho High Court handing over control of water and sewage services in Kgetlenrivier to local residents after they had been left to rot.

Now a non-profit group called the Centre for Good Governance and Social Justice has brought a case before the same court, asking it to remove the municipal manager of Mamusa Local Municipality in North West province (based in Schweizer-Reneke), arguing that the manager is unqualified for the job and has run it into the ground.

Political pressure

“This court case came about because the municipality was placed under tremendous pressure by one local political faction to employ the manager, despite the fact that the interview panel did not recommend him for the post for want of qualifications and experience,” says Mandla Mpempe, executive director of the Centre for Good Governance and Social Justice.

And it’s not just Mpempe saying that.

A November 2020 legal opinion commissioned by the municipality itself found that Reuben Gincane had been appointed as Mamusa’s municipal manager between 2012 and 2017 despite not having the required qualifications.

Gincane was again appointed as municipal manager in late 2020 despite objections from residents, and in disregard of the recommendations of the interview panel.

The legal opinion on his appointment concludes that his lack of qualifications renders his appointment null and void.

Taking back control

“We have to start taking back control of local government in this country from the corrupt factions that have infiltrated it if we are to provide any kind of decent life for the people who live in these areas,” says Mpempe, a veteran ANC member and anti-apartheid activist who has now turned his attention to bringing accountability to local government.

Mamusa residents complain that sewage is spilling into the streets and even into houses, water supply is inconsistent and of poor quality, and broken street lamps and potholes remain unrepaired.

Yet rates and taxes are collected with ruthless efficiency – with a current debtors collection ratio of more than 100% in 2019.

This is according to Municipal Money, a website that tracks municipal performance across the country.

The same website shows that Mamusa relies on rates and taxes for about 58% of its spending, and the balance from national and provincial government.

Municipal council dissolved

The provincial government dissolved the municipal council in 2019 and placed it under administration after service delivery protests turned violent.

Even the mayor of Mamusa, Gotsilekgosi Batsi, has urged the local Member of the Executive Council (MEC) for Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) to intervene in what is claimed to be a highly irregular appointment of the municipal manager – apparently to no avail.

Batsi points to Gincane’s record of poor governance and lack of experience as reasons for demanding his removal.

Evidence in the financials

In a letter to the MEC, of which Moneyweb has a copy, Batsi spells out his reasons for demanding Gincane’s removal:

  • He presided over eight years of audit disclaimers issued by the Auditor-General;
  • In 2015/16, unauthorised expenditure amounting to R26.3 million was incurred;
  • Misrepresentations of fact were observed in the municipality’s cash flow statements; and
  • Payments amounting to R24.5 million were made without following supply chain management processes.

There is another intriguing aspect to this story.

Arson, forgery, criminal case

Mpempe says that in June 2017 the South African Municipal Workers Union (Samwu) embarked on violent protests and burnt down the municipal offices.

“Their reasons had nothing to do with labour issues, but politics. They demanded that the then mayor, Aron Motswana, resign.

“In the process they burnt down the municipal offices.”

Three of the protesting workers were arrested for arson and public violence. Two were acquitted and one was sent to prison. It was later found that three internal municipal workers were involved in the arson attack, for which they were dismissed. The dismissed municipal workers applied for review at the SA Local Government Bargaining Council and were found to have been correctly dismissed. They then purported to have approached the Labour Court.

On January 24, 2020, a few days after local by-elections in Mamusa, a settlement agreement was apparently signed and the workers were reinstated.

Mpempe and the Centre for Good Governance and Social Justice say this settlement agreement is a forgery. The centre has opened a criminal case of fraud, corruption and forgery under case number 13/7/2020 with the Schweizer-Reneke police.

“This matter is receiving attention, however, these employees are at work,” says Mpempe.

Legal challenge

The centre is emboldened by the recent success of Kgetlengrivier residents who have been ordered by the court to take over water and sewage services. Mpempe has been meeting with the lawyers for the Kgetlengrivier residents and plans to launch a similar legal challenge against the Mamusa municipality.

“We’ve suffered through years of broken service delivery, electricity outages, water supply interruptions and incompetent management,” says Mpempe.

“We would like nothing more than to have the court hand over control of local services to residents so that we can appoint service providers who are actually willing and able to do the job.”

Moneyweb reached out to Mamusa municipality and the North West provincial Cogta for comment.

The municipality promised a reply to emailed questions by Friday, February 19, but no reply was received, despite follow up.

Similarly, no reply was received from the provincial department of Cogta.

Ciaran Ryan

The Writer's Room is a curated by Ciaran Ryan, who has written on South African affairs for Sunday Times, Mail & Guardian, Financial Mail, Finweek, Noseweek, The Daily Telegraph, Forbes, USA Today, Acts Online and, among others. In between he manages a gold mining operation in Ghana, and previously worked in Congo. Most of his time is spent in the lovely city of Joburg.