AGE OF ACCOUNTABILITY
Nelson Mandela Bay ex-DA councillors had a ‘corrupt relationship’ with ANC
‘A generally corrupt relationship.’ This is how the State described the relationship between the regional secretary of the ANC and three Democratic Alliance councillors who in 2018 voted the DA out of power in Nelson Mandela Bay. They were allegedly given R100,000 each for their role in collapsing former mayor Athol Trollip’s government.
When the Hawks began investigating a R24.6-million tender for toilets allegedly irregularly awarded during the government’s efforts to fight the spread of Covid, they found — according to the charge sheet — confirmation for stories that had kept the Gqeberha rumour mill going for years.
Neville Higgins, Trevor Louw and Victor Manyathi are charged with corruption for allegedly accepting R100,000 each from the ANC’s regional secretary, Luyolo Nqakula, two years after they played a crucial role in voting the Democratic Alliance out of power in the metro in 2018.
According to the charge sheet, the money used for these payments was allegedly paid to Thuthiko Logistics by Pelatona Projects, the company that was awarded the R24.6-million toilet tender in 2020, and then allegedly laundered through the accounts of Nelson Mandela Bay businessman Xolani Masela, his wife Nwabisa Masela and her mother Nonpumezo Florence Ngotsha, in transactions that all occurred in 2020.
In 2018, Athol Trollip was the DA’s executive mayor in Nelson Mandela Bay. That was until the DA speaker, Jonathan Lawack, was voted out of office one afternoon at a council meeting that led to weeks of political drama, culminating in Trollip being voted out in April.
Party instructions defied
At the time, the three DA councillors, Louw, Higgins and Manyathi, had defied party instructions not to attend meetings which led to several decisions — including the suspension of city manager Johann Mettler.
Current city manager Noxolo Nqwazi ran the metro first in an acting capacity and then — after a highly controversial decision that is currently under legal review — as a permanent appointee.
In 2018, in litigation that followed the ousting of Trollip and the termination of the three councillors’ membership of the DA, the councillors fought tooth and nail to prevent their expulsion. They claimed their actions were part of a strategy, which included a fake resignation letter from one of them, to protest against racism in the Democratic Alliance.
If the Hawks are correct, their actions were motivated by something entirely different.
‘Generally corrupt relationship’
The state claims that a “generally corrupt relationship” had existed between the three former DA councillors and the regional secretary of the ANC for Nelson Mandela Bay, Luyolo Nqakula.
Nqwazi and Mvuleni Norman Mapu, director of human settlements — who was the acting executive director for the department at the time — have been charged with irregularly awarding the toilet tender at a time when emergency procurement was allowed due to the state of disaster announced after the outbreak of the pandemic in South Africa.
Nqakula is accused of “offering to give, and giving, gratifications to the three men”.
According to documents before court, the toilet tender was awarded in 2020 as part of the plan to de-densify informal settlements. Two thousand households had been identified for relocation to serviced sites and supplied with chemical toilets that would later be replaced by permanent toilets. The contract was for these toilets.
It is alleged that Nqwazi and Mapu had used their positions to influence the process and ensure that HT Pelatona Projects was appointed.
According to the charge sheet, they “colluded to create a trail of decision-making that had the official municipal records reflect that they justified the need for a deviation”.
A municipal official was later instructed to keep two other quotations, that were higher than that quoted by Pelatona, on file.
It is alleged that after the tender was awarded, R400,000 was paid from Pelatona to Thuthiko Logistics, laundered through other bank accounts and eventually paid to Nqakula, who in turn paid R100,000 each to Manyathi, Higgins and Louw.
Nqwazi and Mapu now face charges of fraud because they “knew the Covid-19 situation did not justify the appointment by way of deviation of a service provider to construct 2,000 toilets, nor did they hold the true and honest belief that it was so justified”.
Nqwazi also faces charges of being grossly negligent with municipal funds and for failing to take steps to implement NMBM supply chain management policy.
Last week, the Democratic Alliance issued a statement saying the arrest of the three councillors had vindicated the decision to terminate their relationship.
Mvuleni Mapu, who is an accused in other fraud and corruption cases, is under house arrest.
HT Pelatona Projects and Thuthiko Logistics and their respective directors, Morne van der Linde and Nonpumeso Ngotsha, are named in the charge sheet but have not been arrested. It is understood they will appear before court at a later stage.
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Since being axed from the DA, the trio of councillors joined the Defenders of the People (DOP) in Nelson Mandela Bay, where they tried to get rid of Tukela Zamani, the Mayco member for human settlements in the new coalition government that came into power late last month.
“These are the same detractors who have been challenging the legitimacy of the DOP regional leadership and purporting themselves to be the rightful leadership,” Zamani said.
He said the charges preceded the existence of the DOP.
“The membership of the three men will be discussed by our national structure and the members in question will be dealt with accordingly,” he added. “There is no space for criminals in our country. There is no space for criminals in the DOP.”
All the accused have been released on bail. Their legal teams have indicated that their clients will plead not guilty. Mapu was ordered to surrender his firearm to the police. DM/MC