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PROGRESS AGAINST CORRUPTION

High drama as plot thickens in Limpopo political murders

High drama as plot thickens in Limpopo political murders
Cogta parliamentary committee chair Faith Muthambi called off a meeting with community stakeholders citing sabotage, after representatives accused the municipality of failing to invite all structures. The lights went off in the chamber after the committee's meeting with the council officials. (Photo: Lucas Ledwaba/Mukurukuru Media)

An ANC MPL in the province is one of three people arrested this week for the high-profile murder of a municipal office bearer in Mokopane in 2019. At the time he was murdered, Vaaltyn Kekana was planning to table a dossier detailing massive corruption in the municipality.

​​In a week of high drama, Limpopo police swooped on three suspects implicated in a high-profile double murder in a move that suggests the cops could be winning the war against political killings in the province.

So far, 18 suspects have been arrested in connection with the murders of six high-­profile politicians in Limpopo. The killings took place between 2018 and last year.

The three suspects are accused of the 2019 murder of Vaaltyn Kekana (56), bringing the total number of suspects arrested in this case to eight.

Kekana was the chairperson of the munici­pality’s public accounts committee in the Mogalakwena Local Municipality.

He was shot dead on 23 July 2019 while sitting in a vehicle with ANC subregion secretary Ralph Kanyane (32), not far from the municipal offices in Mokopane. Both men died on the scene.

At the time he was murdered, Kekana was planning to table a dossier detailing massive corruption in the municipality.

In Kanyane’s last Facebook post on 22 July 2019, he lamented the chronic water shortages in a local township. “Mogalakwena municipality re kgopela Meetse [we are pleading for water]! Mahwelereng has never been like this in the history of democracy,” he wrote.

The next day gunmen shot Kanyane and Kekana, killing them instantly. The murders happened on the day before Kekana was due to table what was believed to be an explosive report to council exposing irregular expenditure and maladministration in the municipality’s accounts.

Nkholo Victor Tolly Mashamaite (47) and Bafhundzi Mhlabisi (63) were arrested on Monday, 6 March, in Mokopane in connection with the case. Mashamaite is a member of the Limpopo provincial legislature and a former regional secretary of the ANC in the Waterberg region.

His brother, Jabulani Mashamaite (49), who was the deputy corporate manager in the Mogalakwena municipality, is another of the accused in these murders.

In a further development, another suspect, aged 48, was also arrested, this time in Mookgophong, about 60km south of Mokopane. His bail application was postponed to 14 March. Mashamaite and Mohlabisi were released on R5,000 bail in the Polokwane High Court on Wednesday. The magistrates’ court in Mokopane had denied the pair bail the previous day.

A meeting with community stakeholders was called off, citing sabotage. (Photo: Lucas Ledwaba/Mukurukuru Media)

Eight suspects facing serious charges

The eight suspects are facing charges including two counts of murder, conspiracy to commit murder and unlawful possession of a firearm and ammunition.

Just after lunch on Friday, the case against three accused, Jabu Mashamaite, James Chuma and Nkholo Mangana, was withdrawn in the Polokwane High Court due to lack of evidence.

However, the charges against the other accused, Samuel Mokonyane, Steven Mohlala, Tally Mashamaite, Bafhundzi Mhlabisi and Jeffrey Mashishi, remain. The troubled Mogalakwena municipality was placed under administration in January 2020 because of concerns that governance had collapsed.

In March 2021, President Cyril Ramaphosa authorised the Special Investigating Unit to probe serious allegations of corruption and maladministration in the municipality.

It had been cited in numerous reports by the Auditor-General for failing to adhere to basic governance ethics, failing to account for funds and general maladministration, including R3-billion in unauthorised expenditure in the three financial years from 2018 to 2021.

The murders happened on the day before Kekana was due to table what was believed to be an explosive report to council exposing irregular expenditure and maladministration in the municipality’s accounts.

During an oversight visit by the Parliamentary Committee on Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs in October 2019, the municipality was instructed to get state security forces to conduct a security risk assessment for its municipal manager, Beverly Gunqisa. This came after it emerged she had been threatened by a group that was allegedly in control of issuing tenders.

A power failure in the council chamber during the sitting raised serious suspicion that it was being sabotaged by those trying to sidetrack efforts to uncover corruption.

During the same visit, the committee’s scheduled meeting with residents to hear about issues of poor governance and get the council to respond was abandoned after it emerged that the council had failed to notify all the relevant stakeholders.

There were reports of harassment of residents and members of community structures at the meeting.

Wave of political killings

Kekana is among six ANC-aligned politicians shot and killed in Limpopo since 2019 in a province that had, until then, remained untouched by the wave of political killings on the rise elsewhere.

On 21 July last year, Collins Chabane Local Municipality Mayor Moses Maluleke (56) was shot dead at his home in Xikundu village. Maluleke’s 18-year-old son was with him at the time of the attack. He was injured and hospitalised.

Four suspects are expected to go on trial for that murder in the high court in Polokwane in May.

Maluleke, who was the ANC’s regional deputy secretary in Vhembe at the time of his murder, had succeeded Joyce Bila as mayor in December 2018. Bila was sacked for her involvement in the decision to invest R120-million of the municipality’s funds with VBS Mutual Bank.

The municipality later lost the money, which had been invested without a council resolution. Bila is facing charges in connection with the VBS investment.

Maluleke had previously held the position of councillor and had been a member of the mayoral committee since 2016.

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In two separate incidents in 2019, two South African Municipal Workers’ Union leaders, Ronald Mani and Tshililo Timson Musetsho, were shot and killed amid allegations that they were pushing for the removal of some prominent politicians from the Vhembe District Municipality linked to the R2-billion VBS fraud scandal.

The two unionists were highly critical of the municipality’s decision to invest R300-million in the bank. Four suspects have been arrested in connection with those murders.

Mogalakwena municipality is tired of corruption. (Photo: Lucas Ledwaba/Mukurukuru) Media

Suspected assassination attempt

Nndwamato Themeli, a lawyer representing the duo in a case against their dismissal from the municipality, survived a suspected assassination attempt in August 2018.

Gunmen fired 23 bullets at the lawyer as he arrived home in Thohoyandou from a meeting with municipal officials regarding his clients’ case. He was hit eight times.

Musetsho was shot and killed in January 2019, on the same day Themeli was discharged from hospital, and was meant to meet him to discuss the case. Mani was shot dead six days later.

In another case, Thabang Maupa, an ANC councillor in Ward 5 in the Fetakgomo Tubatse Local Municipality, who was also a strong critic of those implicated in the VBS scandal, was shot and killed in November 2018. Two men, Kagiso Maroga (34) and Dan Tjie (35), were sentenced in September last year to life for his murder.

They were sentenced to an additional 10 years for attempting to kill Maupa’s wife at the time of the murder, 10 years for possession of an unlicensed firearm and four years for possession of unlicensed ammunition. Mukurukuru Media/DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.

DM168 11/03 FRONT PAGE

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