Glebelands, Part Two: ‘They are making money from our blood. The Public Protector must do her job’
On 16 July 2019, an eThekwini Municipality internal audit report revealed the municipality had incurred R50.2m in irregular expenditure in the first three months of the year. Top of the list was Glebelands Hostel where R16.9m was spent on upgrades without a tender process.
This is the second of a two-part series exposing administrative failure and alleged corruption at one of South Africa’s most violent social housing complexes, how it came about and why it probably won’t be addressed any time soon. (Read Part One: Durban’s hostel dwellers the collateral damage as Public Protector fights battles on all fronts.)
In his closing arguments to the Moerane Commission of Inquiry into KZN’s political killings in 2018, advocate Bheki Manyathi said that although the commission was not investigating Glebelands itself, the hostel “featured strongly because politics was the primary cause of violence there”.
Manyathi added that “the Public Protector’s report cites the failure of the municipality as one of the causes of the problems” and evidence presented to the commission suggested the “eThekwini Metro up to provincial level, are deliberately turning a blind eye to Glebelands because they are benefitting from the chaos”.
The Public Protector’s (PP) report, released more than two years ago, found the eThekwini Municipality, the SAPS and the Department of Social Development guilty of maladministration and improper conduct. In the previous article, we highlighted concerns regarding the implementation and content of some of the PP’s recommendations, especially those that appear in contravention of the Constitution, and their potential if implemented to further harm the community.
Since March 2014, violence from Glebelands has seeped across the province. Police are still rounding up hostel hitmen, some of whom – after seemingly enjoying years of political protection – have since been charged or convicted for taxi and political killings and other priority crimes across KZN. As a result of the chaos, hundreds of lives have been ruined, thousands continue to live in desperate squalor, and conditions leading to the meltdown remain unaddressed.
After the arrest of a Glebelands rogue policeman in late 2017, the violence abated considerably. But this is merely a ceasefire – a holding pattern until systemic problems are properly dealt with. Given the scale of the crisis, its impact on the rights of many vulnerable groups and potential to cause further even greater societal havoc, one would have thought that getting it right at Glebelands would be a priority for the PP. But it seems not.
With astonishing and uncharacteristic haste the PP recently concluded contentious investigations involving Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan and President Cyril Ramaphosa. The flurry of investigations into Gordhan – none of which contain new or untested allegations – began in late 2018 and took less than a year to complete. The complaint against Ramaphosa, lodged by the DA in November 2018, has been similarly concluded at breakneck speed.
Compare this to the PP’s intervention at Glebelands, where, despite considerable loss of life, she has exhibited no similar sense of urgency.
In April 2015, the Commission for Gender Equality asked the KZN branch of the office of the PP to investigate issues surrounding the then 30 murders and around 100 violent and unlawful evictions – mostly of hostel women and children. There was no response. It was not until after Professor David McQuoid-Mason, president of the Commonwealth Legal Education Association, lodged a further complaint in September 2015 that the former PP, advocate Thuli Madonsela, intervened three months later.
By then 57 people were dead. By the time the PP’s draft report was released in October 2016, a further 10 lives had been lost. In June 2017, when the final report was released – which noted that investigation of hostel tenders may or may not be undertaken at a later date – the death toll had reached 93. More than four years and 130 fatalities down the track, community concerns regarding certain recommendations remain unaddressed, remedial actions have not been implemented and there is still no undertaking to investigate Glebelands corruption.
According to a recent tweet by the deputy Public Protector, advocate Kevin Malunga, who took over the Glebelands case after Madonsela’s term ended, the PP’s intervention at the hostel has been “paralysed” by KZN politics.
In this article, we try to redirect public attention from the war raging in our political stratosphere and all its diversionary tactics and counter-tactics, to the impact of the PP’s “paralysis” on ordinary people, in this case, the Glebelands community where corruption is being allowed to flourish – even nurtured – under the shadow of death.
On 1 July 2019 yet another request for investigation of alleged graft involving Glebelands was submitted to the PP. Malunga was also forwarded the eThekwini Municipality’s recent audit report which found R16.9-million in irregular expenditure was incurred on hostel upgrades without a tender process. We suggested that if the PP’s office lacked capacity, the matter be referred to the Special Investigating Unit or National Treasury for the required action.
Although our most recent complaint has apparently been “tabled,” there is still no undertaking from the PP that issues raised will be probed. What follows describes some of the suspicious contracts that have led community leaders to conclude “they are making money from our blood”.
When the eThekwini Municipality took over hostel administration in the early 2000s, Glebelands residents said they began noticing an ever-widening disparity between vast budgets allocated for upgrades, declining maintenance and the constantly dismal reality on the ground.
Political sources later claimed the ruling party viewed hostel tenders as “cash cows” from which funds could be milked with impunity. Hostel contracts, the jobs flowing from them and the allocation of accommodation quickly became vehicles of patronage and a means of entrenching political support.
The allocation of rooms, particularly in blocks constructed during phases 1, 2 and 3 of Glebelands redevelopment (2006 to 2015) has been highly contentious. Community leaders alleged that relatively affluent people “from other areas” were given the new family units while those squashed into grossly overcrowded rooms were neglected. According to the municipality’s website, to qualify for hostel accommodation combined household earnings should be between R1,500 and R3,500 per month.
The following questions were directed to the PP:
Who was allocated rooms in these blocks?
Did these tenants qualify as social housing beneficiaries in terms of the municipality’s criteria?
Did any politicians or government officials benefit in any undue way from the allocation of these units (there were rumours the ward councillor was selling rooms or giving them only to his supporters)?
Do any of these tenants live elsewhere and derive income from sub-letting while paying little or no rent?
We also asked the PP to investigate whether correct procedure had been followed in the allocation of rooms to two suspects in the “Glebelands Eight” case – a Durban Central SAPS detective and a Prasa employee – charged with six other residents on multiple counts of murder, attempted murder, conspiracy to commit murder, extortion and racketeering.
According to their affidavits which were read out in court during their bail applications, their monthly incomes were around R16,000 and R18,000 while the combined value of just their vehicle assets totalled more than R400,000. How did these individuals qualify for social housing when the municipality turned away needy women with babies, some of whom who had been petrol- bombed from their rooms?
The PP was also requested to probe Glebelands Phase 1, 2 and 3 tenders, particularly construction contracts awarded to DKS Holdings and the Motheo Construction Group. Media reports indicated that in 2005 to 2006, DKS Holdings was irregularly awarded an R18-million tender for Glebelands upgrades. Construction defects were so serious that the contract was terminated and remedial work assigned to another contractor at an additional cost of R14.2-million. However, DKS had already been paid R15.3-million and took the municipality to court to challenge the cancellation of the contract. Although the court ruled in the municipality’s favour and awarded costs against DKS, it later emerged that the company was paid a further R2.4-million after the company made representations to the former mayor and public accounts department.
The DA, which claimed it had reported the DKS matter to the Public Protector, also requested a wider probe into the abuse of tenders awarded under Section 36 of supply chain management regulations. In the municipality’s 2013-14 financial report – the year the violence began at Glebelands – 27% of all contracts were awarded in terms of Section 36, amounting to R1.722-billion. Many of these were for grass cutting and cleaning services in municipal buildings including hostels.
At Glebelands, grass cutting and cleaning is undertaken by Majola Cleaning Services. It could not be established if this company is linked to eThekwini mayor Zandile Gumede whose maiden name is Majola, or to any other government official, or whether the required financial procedures were adhered to.
The private security debacle
In 2013, the office of Glebelands Ward 76 councillor Robert Mzobe was burned down during community protests. In January 2014, the media reported that the municipality had consequently provided Mzobe with personal security costing R230,000 per month – the most expensive private security detail for any official of that level in South Africa.
Intelligence sources claimed Mzobe was assigned four bodyguards and two bulletproof vehicles on a 24/7 basis. Residents reported Mzobe’s bodyguards drive top-of-the-range SUVs. Additionally, a Public Order Policing (POP) unit vehicle – usually a Casspir – appears to be permanently stationed at Mzobe’s office. When he visits the hostel, Mzobe is reportedly provided with a police escort as well as vehicles from the private security company Secureco Metsu.
In 2016, media reports indicated that the municipality paid R45.6-million (R3.8-million per month) for the protection of 26 councillors of which Mzobe’s security is estimated to comprise at least R3-million. This money would be better spent on job creation programmes and addressing the broader issues afflicting the community – the appalling living conditions and social decay that are widely regarded as major drivers of violence in poor communities.
Since late 2017, Glebelands has experienced a 60% reduction in violence. Have new threat analyses been undertaken to ascertain if this excessive and expensive security detail is still warranted? Were proper procurement processes followed and did anyone receive undue benefit from these contracts? The duplication of services would also appear to constitute wasteful expenditure.
Over the years, investigative reporters have uncovered major irregularities involving the eThekwini Municipality’s private security suppliers – a number of which are owned by or connected to powerful political elites and also subject to ongoing litigation. Among these is Secureco Metsu, the private security company appointed in mid-2015 ostensibly to beef up security at Glebelands. It is unknown how much the Secureco contract costs Durban ratepayers or why Secureco and Fidelity (its parent company) vehicles were witnessed at Glebelands on an almost daily basis more than a year before the contract was announced.
The municipality has also failed to monitor Secureco’s performance at Glebelands. Community members report that Secureco staff are regularly seen drunk or drinking on duty, sleeping in their vehicles while parked under trees and allegedly fraternising with criminal elements.
Until recently, at least one, often two Secureco vehicles were permanently stationed at Blocks O and 57. When residents approached guards to ask if their blocks could also be guarded, they were allegedly told to “go ask at the [ward councillor’s] office”.
It was later discovered that the Glebelands ANC Youth League (ANCYL) chairperson was resident at Block O while other ANCYL members lived at Block 57, one of whom was later found to be a Secureco employee (although not deployed at the hostel) who has since been charged under common purpose with seven other alleged hitmen in the “Glebelands Eight” case on nine counts of murder, six counts of attempted murder, conspiracy to commit murder, extortion and several other unrelated matters. While wanted by the police in early 2018, this suspect was said to have been nominated to become Glebelands’ next ANCYL chairperson.
Another Secureco staff member who was resident at Block 52 while simultaneously employed to undertake armed patrol duties at the hostel, was charged with the 2017 murder of a Glebelands woman. A key witness was assassinated a week after the woman’s murder. The Secureco member was acquitted under highly suspicious circumstances and the magistrate is now under investigation.
The municipality and Secureco have consistently refuted all of the above despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, including ongoing criminal cases. Instead, the municipality has commended Secureco’s performance and maintained that since the company’s appointment, residents’ safety has improved considerably. However, the number of murders rose by almost 70% AFTER Secureco’s deployment at Glebelands. In the immediate vicinity of Secureco’s static patrol vehicles at Blocks O and 57, the murder rate increased by 60%, while the number of non-fatal incidents increased by at least 46%.
Aside from the reports of misconduct and alleged criminality, which should be referred to the Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority (PSIRA) for investigation, the Secureco contract would appear to constitute wasteful expenditure as the company’s engagement seems to have rendered Glebelands more dangerous, rather than safer. The PP was requested to investigate all Glebelands’ private security contracts.
Security measures versus community safety
Concerns regarding the installation of dozens of CCTV cameras and perimeter fencing as part of the municipality’s roll-out of “security measures” at Glebelands were outlined in Part 1 Insert LINK. The fencing contract appears to have been awarded to ClearVu Fencing (although this could not be verified as eThekwini tenders are notoriously opaque) a company that has won a number of other municipal contracts.
There was no consultation with the community, who said the money would have been better spent on urgently needed maintenance, repairs and infrastructure upgrades. The fence can be easily scaled and is already breached in many places including sections that blew down in an October 2017 storm. As with the deployment of private security, there was no reduction in violence after the mid-2016 erection of the fence, but again the opposite. At least 15 murders and attempted murders have taken place at or very near to Glebelands’ entrances – known hot spots – where biometric access control is scheduled to be installed.
Residents have raised concerns that not only will access control render them soft targets at known hot spots, but it will also endanger the lives of security guards deployed on gate duty. The PP was requested to investigate if the efficacy of these contracts justified their excessive expenditure and if the money would not have been better spent getting the basics right.
Our (un)caring City
A severe storm in October 2017 caused major damage at Glebelands. About 30 roofs were ripped off, guttering, drainage pipes and windows were smashed, infrastructure was damaged and the foundations of some buildings were undermined. Many rooms – particularly those on the top floors – were flooded, belongings were damaged or destroyed and some residents were forced to seek shelter in already overcrowded rooms in other parts of the hostel. Parts of KZN, including Umlazi, were declared disaster zones and the municipality, via the province, appealed to National Treasury for funds to repair storm-damaged infrastructure.
In this instance, it would have been entirely justified for the municipality to invoke Section 36 of supply chain management regulations which allows for emergency repairs to be undertaken without adhering to the usually lengthy tender processes. The situation was dire, but it was unclear if damage at Glebelands had been properly assessed or included in the sum requested from the national government. Residents who had been unable to relocate were forced to remain in their rooms – open to the elements – and many became ill, while others undertook makeshift repairs with plastic sheeting. However, it was some 13 months before a contractor was eventually appointed.
In February 2018, Human Settlements MEC Ravi Pillay told the late Paddy Kearney (who had been assisting traumatised members of Glebelands community) that funds released by national government would be channelled via province to the municipality to be spent as needed. Queries regarding funds for Glebelands sent by a reporter to provincial treasury were referred to National Treasury, which failed to respond.
Insert pics 18, 19, 20 here
Pillay later advised Kearney that Glebelands’ repairs would be a three-phase process, and the first phase (of assessment of the most badly damaged blocks) had been completed. The cost of repairs to 16 of the worst affected blocks was estimated at R9.7-million. Pillay reported that all supply chain management processes had been completed by the end of March 2018 and repair work was scheduled to begin after April. He also advised that: “As part of the ongoing incremental process of upgrading Glebelands, 48 new family units would be constructed.”
In October 2018, a full year after the storm devastated Glebelands, Makhathini Projects (or Makhathini Civils) began work on the damaged roofs. Some residents were employed as unskilled labour but many alleged that: “only the councillor’s supporters got jobs.”
By early 2019, work on the roofs was mysteriously halted. Residents who approached the hostel superintendent were allegedly told that the municipality had not paid the contractor and it was not known when repairs would resume.
Although by that time most of the damaged roofs had been replaced, the community reported that guttering had not been installed so water poured down the stairs inside buildings whenever it rained.
Work recommenced after Malunga met the mayor and other officials in March 2019. Although Makhathini has since completed Glebelands’ roof repairs, there is no indication when, or even if, other storm damage will be repaired, or whether basic infrastructure such as water and electricity systems will be upgraded as per the PP’s 2017 recommendations.
The PP has been requested to investigate all contracts relating to Glebelands storm damage repairs and why the repairs were not expedited, particularly given the parlous living conditions to which residents were already subjected, and in light of the fact that non-essential repairs, for example to pavements in eThekwini’s affluent suburbs, appeared to have been carried out soon after the storm. To reduce further potential conflict, the PP was also asked to probe and monitor all aspects of the construction of new units slated for Glebelands. Community members have already expressed concerns that, “Development is like an evil spirit, it always brings death when it comes to Glebelands.”
Glebelands’ missing millions
In a report to the PP in March 2019 the municipality stated that: “MWC Global (a firm of consulting engineers) has completed conditional assessment of Glebelands Hostel and extensive repairs have been conducted at the Glebelands Hostel/CRU.”
It also reported that: “The Human Settlements’ Maintenance Section conducts the day-to-day maintenance of damaged sewerage pipes.”
In or around January/February 2018, members of the community alleged that a company – MWC Global (actually MWC Project Controls) – had been awarded a R75-million contract to undertake work at Glebelands. It was assumed (incorrectly it seems) that this was for storm damage repairs and that the R75-million was from National Treasury.
According to community sources, at some stage between late 2017 and early 2018, MWC advertised jobs. Applicants would apparently receive two weeks’ training in terms of whatever work was to be undertaken with respect to the R75-million contract. However, no one could establish where or even if the training actually took place, what the selection criteria were for applicants, who did the training, what the training consisted of or how the positions were advertised. Other sources alleged MWC sub-contracted the training to another unknown company and that the “trainees” were to be paid upwards of R10,000 for whatever work they would be undertaking.
In response to a reporter’s questions, hostel manager Thabane Nyawose confirmed that R75-million had indeed been made available, but “to undertake repairs and upgrades as required in the Public Protector’s recommendations” (not apparently for storm damage repairs).
Nyawose advised that the MWC Global contract had been awarded in terms of Section 36 of supply chain management regulations which also allows for contracts to be awarded without going out to public tender if there is an existing contract between the supplier and a state entity. Nyawose told the reporter that there was “an existing contract between the Gauteng provincial government and the service provider” (MWC Global).
When Kearney sought clarity from Human Settlements MEC Ravi Pillay, Pillay said he was unaware of any R75-million budget, and funds for Glebelands’ storm damage repairs would be coming from National Treasury. Neither, it seemed, was City Manager Sipho Nzuza aware of the budget or MWC contract when approached by a reporter for comment.
Shortly thereafter, community members reported that a number of “young girls” – residents of Glebelands – had visited various blocks “with clipboards”, to inquire if residents had “any problems with water.” Many rooms were not “assessed” as residents were at work or out. Residents said they were alarmed that such young and obviously inexperienced members of the community – some of whom were known never to have worked previously – had, it seemed, been dispatched to assess what was required in terms of upgrading the hostel’s crumbling plumbing and sanitation systems.
Many residents alleged that most of the “assessors” appeared to be “connected to the ward councillor”. These included members or relatives of the local ANC branch executive committee (of which Mzobe was chairperson), ANCYL, ANC Women’s League (ANCWL), the councillor’s administration officer’s husband, someone closely connected to the former supervisor, and the girlfriend of the Durban Central SAPS officer who was arrested in December 2017 – one of the accused in the “Glebelands Eight” case.
Not only did this raise security concerns but it also raised suspicions that the R75-million contract and any employment that flowed from it was being used to dispense patronage as residents claimed happened regularly whenever development took place at Glebelands.
After the appearance of the “assessors”, residents reported “white men,” whom they presumed were engineers, were seen at Glebelands. After one or two sightings, these “engineers” were not seen again.
Contrary to the municipality’s claims in its report to the PP, no “extensive repairs” to the plumbing and sanitation systems have been undertaken other than normal day-to-day repairs such as leaking tap washers. These minor plumbing jobs are usually undertaken by a variety of unknown sub-contractors and their (often shoddy) work is never inspected afterwards.
While it seems Makhathini Civils was contracted to repair Glebelands storm-damaged roofs using money from National Treasury and completed the work professionally, a big question mark hangs over the R75-million budget which seems to have materialised – and been spent – months before Treasury’s dispersal of emergency funds for eThekwini’s storm-damaged infrastructure.
Other question marks hang over MWC Global’s involvement, which, it seems, was limited solely to the training of “assessors” to inspect Glebelands’ ailing water systems – a separate contract entirely from the storm damage repairs. The PP has therefore been requested to investigate all aspects of the MWC Global contract, the R75-million budget and all contracts relating to Glebelands’ storm damage and plumbing repairs, upgrades and maintenance.
Anyone for tennis?
In July 2018, several months before the municipality saw fit to appoint a contractor to undertake urgent storm damage repairs, construction work began at the site of Glebelands’ defunct tennis courts. There was much speculation about whether this would perhaps be temporary accommodation for residents while their blocks were upgraded. But no, a few months later the community found that the municipality had instead gifted them new tennis courts. Tennis is not known for its popularity among hostel communities. In fact, no one is aware of a single resident who plays the sport. This is probably a blessing, because the new facility is kept locked. The PP has been asked to include this contract in any further investigations.
It would seem that even if correct financial procedures were adhered to, in light of the municipality’s failure to undertake critically-needed infrastructure repairs, maintenance, upgrades, and build new units to ease the chronic overcrowding, construction of a tennis court would constitute wasteful expenditure.
The more things change…
In April 2018, a media query revealed that the municipality and Department of Social Development (DSD) were lying to the PP in terms of their implementation of the PP’s recommendations. This was duly reported to the PP and concerns were raised regarding oversight. After being initially ignored, the matter was subsequently referred back to the KZN office of the PP after Professor McQuoid-Mason intervened (again). This led to an extremely hostile meeting some four months later in which local officials, who had clearly not bothered to read the report (which detailed at length what the municipality and DSD had failed to do), questioned community representatives’ observations regarding what was visibly obvious to anyone setting foot in Glebelands – that the hostel and its inhabitants remained neglected by all.
During the meeting the local PP officials also said their vehicles had been taken away from them and claimed the police had been unable to escort them on – it seemed – the only day of the year the officials had been available to visit Glebelands to inspect the municipality’s progress. Nothing further transpired for some time.
Then, in March 2019, Malunga admitted in a press release that after receiving complaints from “certain civil society organisations” the PP had found that the municipality was indeed neglecting to comply with its recommendations. Together with the SA Human Rights Commission, Malunga said he would meet eThekwini mayor Zandile Gumede to discuss a way forward. Community representatives were invited, but as they were given less than a day’s notice they were unable to attend.
As anticipated, Gumede and her henchmen waxed lyrical on all the city had done for the community, whom, she suggested, needed “education programmes” to stop them vandalising their homes and “wasting water”. Gumede – with support from the City’s Housing Committee chairperson, Mondli Mthembu – undertook to personally oversee Glebelands’ upgrades. Both were arrested a month later on corruption charges.
Predictably, Gumede’s utterances were not well received and angry residents demanded Malunga visit Glebelands to see for himself the harsh reality. During the community meeting that followed in April, Malunga made the startling revelation that the PP does not normally go to such lengths to monitor compliance with the PP’s recommendations.
“We just submit our reports then leave it to the relevant bodies to do what is expected of them,” he said.
To which the PP’s KZN head, advocate Mlandeli Nkosi, who appeared to have been dozing throughout the meeting, roused himself and shook his head vigorously.
“No, no, we never go to these lengths, unheard of!” he proclaimed with what seemed profound disapproval of so naïve a notion as oversight.
Suffice to say there has been no progress following Malunga’s “paralysis” tweet and no response from the PP’s office after we forwarded the eThekwini Municipality’s audit report which revealed that almost R17-million in irregular expenditure was incurred at Glebelands in the first three months of the year.
The more than 22,000-strong-community are now left wondering, “What is the point of such a thing called a Public Protector?” Who does it protect if not poor communities from gangsters in government? And why it is only effective against certain political leaders but suffers “paralysis” when dealing with others, especially those already implicated in major graft?
There have been no consequences a year after the conclusion of the Moerane Commission – political killings continue. Two years have elapsed since the PP’s final report on Glebelands and there have been no consequences for the eThekwini Municipality or DSD – the graft and poor service delivery continue.
As was recently pointed out by the PP herself, the proper functioning of Chapter Nine institutions is critical in reducing state malfeasance, especially for communities and individuals who have no other access to justice. But these institutions are increasingly caught up in what their officials term “high impact” cases – stratospheric political squabbles that divert capacity from meaningful interventions where they are most needed.
It must also be remembered that the dystopian conditions described in this series pertain just to Glebelands. The eThekwini Municipality administers 11 hostels and some, like KwaMashu, are more than double the size of Glebelands. We simply do not know the scale of the suspected looting or levels of violence at the other hostels.
But what is all too evident is that hostel dwellers’ deplorable living conditions are a brutal indictment of the ANC’s terminal allergy to accountability.
The PP is fiddling while Rome burns. DM
Vanessa Burger is an independent community activist for human rights and social justice. (Author’s note: The writer has no interest in the Public Protector’s investigations into senior politicians and believes all complaints should receive equal attention and equitable allocation of resources. This is very evidently not happening.)
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