A day of high drama in the North West’s municipality of Tlokwe saw a vote of No Confidence passed in the province’s first DA mayor, Annette Combrink, and the reinstatement of Maphetle Maphetle as mayor. Maphetle was disposed of three months ago by his own ANC councillors because, they said, he was corrupt and blind to graft. By MANDY DE WAAL and THAPELO LEKGOWA.
After a three-month hiatus, Andrew ‘Maphetle’ Maphetle is once again the mayor of Tlokwe (old Potchefstroom), following a dramatic showdown between the ANC and the DA that saw the ruling party stalwart – currently being investigated for corruption – voted in with a ballot of 31 votes against 21. Annette Combrink, who made history by being the first DA mayor to be elected in the North West province, was voted out.
Combrink found herself mayor of Tlokwe in November 2012, when local ANC councillors cast a vote of no confidence in Maphetle, alleging that he was involved in graft and doing nothing about corruption in the municipality. The event caused a walkout of ANC municipal leaders opposed to the no confidence vote, and in the breach, the DA achieved victory when opposition parties and the remaining ANC members voted Combrink in as mayor.
The situation was reversed on Tuesday in a dramatic turn of events which was preceded by many of the taps in Tlokwe running dry. Twenty-four hours before the ANC and its opposition locked horns in a council meeting, all of the municipality’s water pumps were cleansed, resulting in the temporary drought. The DA called the unusual act of cleansing Potchefstroom’s seven water pumps at the same time an act of “sabotage”.
The Tlokwe turnaround began with a massive commotion, as supporters of the opposing parties massed to the municipal buildings in Potchefstroom. Also present was Tina Joemat-Pettersson, minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries, who is also a close ally of President Jacob Zuma’s. (Joemat-Pettersson was recently embroiled in a scandal because of her penchant for luxury hotel accommodation, for which she spent some R1.6 million in bills in one year.)
The Public Protector advised Zuma to admonish her for violating ethics codes by taking her family and au pair on a trip to Sweden in 2010, while the DA was outraged that Joemat-Pettersson rushed back to SA to assist Zuma with his wedding, at a cost of close on half a million to local taxpayers. The office of the president merely stated that they had “noted” the issue.
Joemat-Pettersson has previously called Zuma the “father of the nation” and pledged her public allegiance to him, saying: “We support you and we will support you.” With Zuma en route back from Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, as part of a DRC peace initiative, his trusty lieutenant was on hand to crack the whip in the troubled North West. Earlier, ANC councillors opposing the reinstatement of Maphetle told Daily Maverick they’d go to the wall, even if this cost them their jobs.
What was clear going into the council meeting was that the ANC had a plan, despite the DA’s last-ditch attempt to head them off at the pass with a High Court action. The opposition party funded legal action to prevent Tlokwe from returning to the ANC, citing procedural irregularities in the ruling party’s bid to retain power in that municipality.
With supporters from both parties chanting outside, and witnessed by a heavy police presence, Tlokwe Speaker (and ANC Councillor) Barei Segotso kicked off the action by allowing a vote of no confidence in Combrink to take place in the municipal chambers, which were packed. This despite the pending legal action, and after being advised by the municipality’s legal advisor not to proceed. Councillor David Legoete then introduced the motion, a poll was taken and the vote of no confidence in Combrink was upheld.
Legoete had some difficulties trying to raise the motion, though – he scurried back and forth to consult with other ANC councillors, as if following a pre-drafted script, ensuring he was on track. There was also a call on those councillors who called for the vote of no confidence against Maphetle last year in November to pronounce in chambers that they withdrew the motion. But despite this, no one stood up or withdrew the motion.
Legoete shamed and threatened those who’d helped to oust Maphetle, saying out loud: “The delinquents who removed Maphetle last year will be dealt with.” He did not elaborate on what would be done with them, but did add: “Who are those delinquents? We all know that they are still members of the ANC and it is the ANC itself that removed Maphetle.”
After the no confidence motion was passed, the DA mayor gestured her disapproval with two thumbs down, and vacated the front of the council house with Legoete giving her a mocking ovation. Then came the time to vote in a new mayor, and when Maphetle was declared the new municipal chief, ANC councillors and members in the chambers raised the ceiling.
The re-election of Maphetle appeared to be a well-orchestrated manoeuvre that had its genesis in the ANC National Working Committee intervention in Tlokwe, as well as Zuma and his deputy Cyril Ramaphosa’s surprise visit to the municipality. ANC Secretary Gwede Mantashe was also there to ensure that the embarrassment of a DA-led Tlokwe would be resolved.
Ruling party spin doctors were quick to show that the congress opened its arms to the reinstated mayor. “The African National Congress (ANC) welcomes the Tlokwe municipal councillors’ rectification of a mistake which led to the removal of an ANC mayor,” a statement from party spokesperson Jackson Mthembu read. “The ANC is satisfied that the ANC caucus did the right thing by restoring its mayor. We hope that a similar occurrence would not happen again anywhere within the country, because we cannot govern on the basis of trial and error,” said Mthembu.
The DA said it would press forward with court action and the party is imminently waiting for a forensic report that investigates Maphetle of corruption. Daily Maverick has had sight of a Special Investigations Unit (SIU) report on Tlokwe, which states that investigations into the municipality are underway. The SIU is examining Municipal Infrastructure Grants, vendor databases as well as HR databases. Some time back, the SIU sequestered payment information with all the supporting documentation related to service providers that were awarded.
The DA’s distress was palpable. “We feel very disappointed with the mayor being removed after she did so much for us in such a short space of time. We are going back to our communities and will consult with them, but they were not happy even with the thought of Maphetle being considered by the ANC,” Vuyani Magwa, DA Branch chair of Ward 18, told Daily Maverick in Potchefstroom.
“We don’t want Maphetle. He has corrupted the whole of Potchefstroom. When Zuma comes here it becomes a secret, because we never see him as members. We hear he will be here on the 3rd of March again, but we will not see him. Next year we will be expected to stand in long voting lines to vote for the same people, but me? Never,” said Mokonyane Masabata, standing outside the municipal building to protest against the ANC.
A local resident, Betty Modise, said: “The decision is to be taken by the community members, as we are the ones who voted the ANC into office. The people will be deciding soon. We don’t mind any other mayor, but not Maphetle, because he is corrupt.”
Another local, Duduzile Makhunga, added: “Our leaders are arrogant, forgetting we put them up there – they treat us like dirt. They normally say whites still have Apartheid tendencies in them, but no! It is the ANC who actually have Apartheid tendencies.”
None of the ANC dissidents who ousted Maphetle wanted to speak to the media, but they appeared visibly angry. They were shouting, and one chant they kept repeating was that they were now going to make Tlokwe ungovernable. Other ANC members, furious about the decision, even suggested mass action in the form of closing down the N12.
In three short months, it appears, the broader community has noticed a real difference in a municipality led by Combrink. “We have just been through a business course for young people that was headed by Mayor Combrink,” said a youth activist, who declined to be named, in Potchefstroom. “The DA mayor did in three months what the ANC has been unable to achieve in 18 years. Combrink advertised jobs in the local paper and we were all able to stand a fair chance of being hired. Now we know that we will never see the opportunity, because it will go to puppets of the Mayor.”
Judging by the feedback from community members, the expectation is that that under ANC rule, corruption will be swept under the carpet while nepotism and cadre employment will be the order of the day, as service delivery in Tlokwe falters.
Will the ANC listen to mass action from residents of Tlokwe? Protest hasn’t changed the ruling party’s mind on this issue before. Now, it appears, only the courts can reverse this decision, until the voters take to the polls for local elections once more. DM
Tlokwe Municipality: DA to fight for control on Daily Maverick
"A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right and raises at first a formidable outcry in defence of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason." ~ Thomas Paine