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Joburg’s new mayor defends allegations of dodgy dealings and lack of tertiary education

Joburg’s new mayor defends allegations of dodgy dealings and lack of tertiary education
Johannesburg Mayor Kabelo Gwamanda. (Photo: Gallo Images / Sydney Seshibedi)

While many political posts do not require a university qualification as a prerequisite, newly elected Joburg mayor, Kabelo Gwamanda, suggested he could be ‘a black version of John Steenhuisen’ (Steenhuisen does not have a university degree). He made the remark when quizzed about his highest qualification while appearing at his first public engagement since taking the position over a week ago.

Kabelo Gwamanda is navigating uncharted waters after his election as the ninth executive mayor of SA’s richest city more than a week ago. Now, his past appears to threaten his political career. 

Gwamanda is a member of the Al Jama-ah party. It has three seats on the Joburg council. He is in the spotlight amid allegations that he ran a Ponzi scheme, and after a Carte Blanche investigation uncovered that his highest level of education was Grade 10.

Al Jama-ah’s caucus leader and former mayor, Thapelo Amad, confirmed to Daily Maverick that Gwamanda had dropped out of school for personal reasons and enrolled for a national senior certificate in business administration – equivalent to Grade 12 at a college.

Questions around the mayor’s qualifications are an attempt to discredit Gwamanda for the top position, according to Amad:

“There isn’t a criteria (sic)… there isn’t anywhere where they say for you to be a mayor, you need to be qualified with this degree or need to have a matric.

“Those are mere allegations that seek to tarnish his reputation… the office of the mayor is highly contested.”

When Gwamanda was asked on Tuesday by Eyewitness News about his qualifications, he responded: “What if I am the black version of John Steenhuisen?”

Gwamanda was elected mayor after receiving 139 votes to the DA’s Mpho Phalatse’s 68 and ActionSA’s Funzi Ngobeni’s 59 votes. He is the ninth mayor of Joburg since 2016.

Previous mayors include: Parks Tau (2016), Herman Mashaba (2016/19), Geoff Makhubo (2020/21), Mpho Moerane (2021), Jolidee Matongo (2021), Mpho Phalatse (2021/22), Dada Morero (2022) and Thapelo Amad (2023).

Read more in Daily Maverick: Kabelo Gwamanda voted in as latest mayor of Joburg

News24 recently reported that Gwamanda was linked to three registered companies, including iThemba Lama Africa, into which people allegedly channelled money at the mayor’s behest. Former executive mayor Mpho Phalatse threatened to open a criminal case within 48 hours from Saturday if Gwamanda did not come forward to address the allegations.

joburg mayor phalatse

Former Johannesburg mayor Mpho Phalatse. (Photo: Gallo Images / Papi Morake)

On the Ponzi scheme allegations, Amad told the publication that the iThemba Lama Africa funeral scheme was a “business gone wrong”.

Amad said it started when he, Gwamanda and others were “young and naive”, as they assisted cash-strapped people with the burial of loved ones from their own pockets. When the group attempted to convert the NPO into a business, it failed.

On Tuesday, Gwamanda would not go into detail, but confirmed having been a part of iThemba Lama Africa Funeral Scheme, “when I was much younger than I am now”.

“The allegations of the Democratic Alliance, Mpho Phalatse and those people lobbying my community to, in fact, portray or cast aspersions… is something that is very disingenuous of them.”

Gwamanda said a legal team had since been appointed to look into the matter.

This comes after the party wrote to council speaker Colleen Makhubele, requesting that an investigation be carried out by the ethics committee to establish the following.

  1. “Whether the allegations made against Cllr Gwamanda, regarding his private business interests, have substance and materiality to his status as a councillor and executive mayor.
  2. “Whether the staged public attacks of Cllr Phalatse on Cllr Gwamanda’s person and misrepresentation of his private affairs has not violated his rights and brought the office he holds into serious disrepute, and whether in so doing, she did not contravene the provisions of item 2 of the Code of Conduct for Councillors through her acts of political expediency and opportunism.”

Despite his future hanging in the balance, Gwamanda told journalists: “I am happy with how things are and confident in the work that I am supposed to do for the city.”

What Gwamanda has done in the job so far

On Tuesday, he attended his first public engagement in Alexandra where he encouraged the youth to take part in developing their community. He also told residents that he would not be deterred in his mission to improve the lives of ordinary people.

  1. At the weekend, he accepted National Treasury’s invitation to Cape Town to attend a support initiative with the theme, “Navigating the storms: building adaptable and resilient cities”.
  2. Gwamanda appointed Transport MMC Kenny Kunene to act in his position while he was away for two days.
  3. Although expected to address a media briefing by his party on Saturday to address allegations of wrongdoing in his one-time funeral insurance business, Gwamanda was a no-show. His party blamed the unavailability of security.
  4. He had a weekend interview with the SABC. DM

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Confucious Says says:

    The difference between government politics and reality is that in government politics (in SA particularly) a person with a STD 8 education can be elected to preside over a R70bn budget, but in reality, those same people who voted for this person and including the person himself, would never invest their personal money with someone who had a STD8 education, be treated by a doctor who qualified at the distance learning academy, fly in a plane piloted by a student who only completed the first week of flight school. They are not fooling us. We see it clearly.

    • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

      Agree, but the real elephant is that they don’t care if we know. Until we can convince EVERYONE to vote for a grown up party – the DA darnit! – these clowns will continue sitting on their arses blowing [pick your favourite] – until they have completely destroyed this country for everyone, including their own not-so-sweet selves.

      • Roelf Pretorius says:

        If the DA was a “grown-up” party, the coalitions would have held. The only reason why it does not hold is specifically because at national level they are not. That is why the national leadership keeps interfering in the local council matters (such interference is completely unconstitutional; yet all councillors and MP’s have their jobs on grounds of what the Constitution says). Where they don’t interfere, the coalitions work. When Mashaba was the DA mayor, he was successful because he refused that interference. And my information is that, thus far, the national leadership also refrained from interfering in Retief Odendaal’s coalition in Nelson Mandela Bay.

        • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

          Let me rephrase: Forget perfection, it doesn’t exist.

          The DA are the combination of largest and most grown up opposition party in South Africa without a doubt – and therefore who everyone should be voting for.

          To suggest otherwise is to encourage many small ineffectual parties and retain the status quo.

          1. improve
          2. rinse
          3. repeat

          Until we all get this strategy through our heads nothing will change.

      • Roelf Pretorius says:

        . . . Let us reflect on what constitutes a “grown-up” politician or political party. First of all there has to be a commitment to the SA Constition. Secondly such politicians HAVE to put the residents of the municipality, province or country (whichever of council, legislature or national government applies) before that of their organisation. Thirdly such politicians HAVE to be willing to represent the whole of the population of that council. etc. And fourthly and most important, they have to realise that parliament, legislature and councils are not there to play power games; it exists so the public representatives can represent the sentiments of the voters, NOT party ideology. Only once a political party satisfy all four of these requirements, can we speak of a mature party. And as much as often the local politicians in the DA sometimes understand that (I mention Hermann Mashaba and Mpho Phalatse as specific examples), the DA national leadership does not. That is why they actually are gradually losing support instead of winning.

        • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

          Remember that everyone knows the problems Roelf. What we need are practical solutions.

          Voting for the largest – and way better – opposition party is the best chance there is of positive change in this country.

          (I’m not sure where you live, but I’ll bet it isn’t in Cape Town)

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    Thinks he’s a black version of John Steenhuizen?

    Ha ha how funny is that.

    Its formally outed! Everyone knocks John but secretly aspires to be like him – because they know he’s awesome.

    Ha ha, it’s pathetic.

  • Change is good sa says:

    The Al Jamah-ah party have no experience in running any kind of municipal, provincial or national government and if they are an opposition party, why are they in a pact with the ANC. If we want corruption to come to an end, do not vote for the Al Jamah-ah party because they have sold their souls to the devil. This is just ANC skulduggery at play once again, continuing their legacy of destruction and malfeasance.

  • Brian Doyle says:

    My only question to the new mayor is “do you know what zero based budgeting is”. If he cannot answer that then he cannot sort out the finances and Johannesburg will continue to suffer. It needs a strong man with both financial and Human resources knowledge to both run the city and appoint the correct team to assist him

  • virginia crawford says:

    The business went wrong: no sign of remorse or care for the people who lost money. The best predictor of future behaviour, is past behaviour. So anothet disaster for Jhb Making promises is not work, it’s talking.

  • Rob vZ says:

    I am sorry that the citizens of Joburg must be the testing ground for the disaster that is coalition politics, but hopefully the electorate will see it for the sh-t show that it is, and stick to one of the two main parties in 2024. Vote ANC or Vote DA. The rest is a vote for Chaos.

  • James Francis says:

    Eh, Gwamanda is a puppet in the ANC and EFF’s attempt to subvert democracy and avoid direct accountability. He won’t last because neither of those parties are interested in service delivery. He won’t be able to show if he is effective or not, and the ANC/EFF infighting will claim his scalp sooner than later.

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