Johannesburg – Barely a day after being sworn in as the new mayor of Thabazimbi Local Municipality in Limpopo, Midah Moselane found her office emptied of all furniture and equipment.
An angry Moselane described the moment she arrived at the municipal offices, just a day after she was sworn in, as the most disappointing in her life as she found the sheriff of the court’s trucks loading municipal property.
The mayor’s office was left bare as the sheriff invaded the offices last week, loading furniture, computers and vehicles.
They were attached because an estimated R400 million was owed to service providers.
“It was very sad. We pleaded with them [sheriff officials]. The only thing they agreed to leave behind was one computer to enable residents to do payments, and a truck for waste collection,” she lamented.
“I asked myself, ‘How was this allowed to happen?’ I wondered what my predecessor and others who were in charge had been doing. It is clear nothing much was done.”
This, she said, led her to believe that payment agreements were deliberately dishonoured to create the untenable situation.
She believed this was done “when it was clear that the ANC’s chances of retaining the municipality were minimal”.
Moselane is a former ANC councillor who founded the Thabazimbi Residents’ Association, which won two seats in last month’s election and went into an opposition coalition with the DA, unseating her former party. She accused her former comrades of “sabotage”, saying they left her to inherit “a broke municipality that is drowning in debt”.
“I left the ANC and founded the residents association because I could not continue sitting among those who did not have the community’s interests at heart. We tried to raise issues affecting communities for a long time, but it all fell on deaf ears … I just had to leave.
“Today, our worst fears have come true,” she said.
Thabazimbi was placed under administration in February. The Auditor-General issued disclaimers on the municipality’s audit reports for the past three financial years, having identified serious cash flow issues and irregular expenditure as endemic problems.
Appointed Thabazimbi administrator in March, Letsepe Thubakgale told Parliament’s portfolio committee on May 3 that the municipality’s bank balance in March totalled R3.4 million, and that it owed Eskom R146 million and Magalies Water at least R31 million.
In his report, Thubakgale said “financial challenges started in 2010, when the municipality utilised conditional grants for operational activities”. This led to Treasury withholding some funding.
He added that the municipality was sitting on a default judgment totalling R56 million, and probably owed in excess of R400 million. He said none of the creditors was being paid at the time.
Moselane said these problems were known for some time and that those in charge continued to fail to save the municipality, causing “huge embarrassment”.
“I believe all these things are the result of negligence by those who failed to honour payment agreements – and this was easily left with the intention of sabotaging us, so we walk into a troubled and ailing administration.”
She said the province sent an administrator earlier in the year “to save the municipality’s drowning ship”, but he obviously failed to do so.
Tumisang Pilane, local secretary of the SA Municipal Workers’ Union, also blamed the previous administrator for failing to save the municipality.
“The municipal manager was not on top of the situation. We feel he failed to rescue the municipality. And now workers are today coming to work, only to sit under trees because they have no equipment.”
After the property was attached last Friday, workers arrived to empty offices. This past week, they took all files and documents strewn across the floor when municipal property was seized, and stacked them against the wall.
They have been reporting for duty daily, but still have no desks, chairs, computers or other tools of trade.
Moselane said she was not even sure if the municipality had money in the bank. However, she said her administration had approached the service providers and managed to make payment arrangements in a bid to prevent further embarrassment for the municipality, after some creditors “threatened to attach the municipal buildings”.
“We are trying to get everything right and have our equipment returned. We have met with mining houses in the area, trying to get them to come to our financial rescue.
“Mining houses have asked us to write formal letters. It is a struggle to do so as we do not have computers to type, but we will get them done regardless,” she said.