'The kingdom has fallen!'
The battle of Standerton has ended with the mayor, Juliet Queen Radebe-Khumalo, being deposed.
"The kingdom has fallen!" community activist Thabo Selepe declared yesterday as he and other residents burst out of the Lekwa council offices in Standerton to break the news to a small crowd outside, who popped sparkling wine and toyi-toyied up and down the street in celebration.
The ANC's Luthuli House headquarters yesterday recalled the entire mayoral executive after several weeks of battles that left Sakhile township, 'km south-east of Joburg, in tatters.
Apart from the mayor, the speaker, chief whip and four local councillors were also axed.
As expectant residents gathered in front of the council offices, Radebe-Khumalo was called into the council offices to be told of the decision. She had just returned from Cape Town, where she attended a meeting hosted by President Jacob Zuma to address service delivery issues countrywide.
"I am still in a meeting. I cannot comment," Radebe-Khumalo said when contacted about her ousting.
A delegation comprising ANC Youth League president Julius Malema, Deputy Minister of Police Fikile Mbalula and Premier David Mabuza came to Standerton yesterday to announce the decision of the ANC national working committee to council officials and community leaders.
They made it clear that the executive and councillors had been fired because of a power struggle and failure to fulfil their duties.
In a thinly veiled threat to Mabuza, Malema warned that the province should have intervened well before Luthuli House's forced involvement.
"We don't want to frequent this place. The (ANC's) provincial executive committee must take responsibility," he said.
The three arrived to a heroes' welcome at the packed Sakhile stadium, where residents held up cellphone cameras for a picture of the man of the moment, Malema.
Cheers also went up for Mbalula, while Mabuza was jeered with a chorus of "Voertsek! Voertsek!".
The boisterous crowd spared no one, though, even heckling Malema at first for his inability to speak isiZulu. After demanding the crowd respect all the speakers, irrespective of their lingua franca, Malema again drove home his point about provincial leadership.
"We want a province that will act immediately. They must not wait until we burn tyres," he said.
Earlier in the day, the three announced that an administrator would now be installed "for no longer than six months", who would investigate the allegations of corruption and fraud.
"The councillors are being recalled, redeployed outside the municipality. In our view, service delivery has been compromised," said Mabuza.
He also announced that the council was bankrupt.
Mbalula added: "The ANC is not a holiday or a free ride for populists."
The announcement came despite a recent Empowerdex study showing that Lekwa was the fourth-best performing municipality in terms of service delivery in the country.
Last week, Mbalula and Deputy Minister of Home Affairs Malusi Gigaba came to Standerton on a fact-finding mission, meeting councillors, community members, and business and church leaders.
A decision for "an intervention" resulted in section 139 of the constitution being invoked, allowing for the sacking of the mayor and her executive.
"In line with the ANC manifesto, with emphasis on zero tolerance for non-delivery, we have resolved to recall the Lekwa local municipality mayor, the speaker, chief whip and all members of the municipal mayoral committee. Vacancies will be officially declared," Mbalula stated.
Denying the ANC had bowed to pressure from residents, Mbalula said their action had been based on performance, and that the NWC had made a decision based on the merits of the case.
Several municipalities in Mpumalanga have been put under administration, a fact Mabuza put down to a situation he inherited from "the previous administration", which had left a number of investigations incomplete.
"There may be commonalities and people who are fuelling this in the ANC," admitted Mabuza.
The remaining councillors were also warned to toe the line when the administrator starts next week.
"All councillors were told: 'You tamper with the administrator (sic) will be an invitation for expulsion'," said Malema.
Malema berated those who destroyed property and burnt tyres during riots. "It's an old style of protesting. These days you must just stand up and protest," he said.