KZN municipality to review 99-year leases in raft of initiatives to speed up economic development

The uPhongolo local municipality wants to speed up development. Picture: Sihle Mavuso/IOL

The uPhongolo local municipality wants to speed up development. Picture: Sihle Mavuso/IOL

Published Aug 17, 2022


Pongola - Uphongolo (Pongola) local municipality, the second biggest economic hub in the Zululand district after Vryheid has started to review all 99-year leases in raft of initiatives aimed at freeing up land for economic development.

The municipality which lies on the border between South Africa and Eswatini, in northern KwaZulu-Natal, has been previously besieged by challenges of financial mismanagement and allegations of corruption by councillors and officials.

However, in a sudden change of direction, the recently confirmed municipal manager, Bethuel Mntonjani Khali, told IOL during a sit-down interview, that the fortunes of the municipality will soon change.

He laid out a five-year plan which he aims to implement as he takes over the reigns of the municipality which in November last year fell into the hands of the IFP after voters outrightly rejected the ANC.

“Fixing municipal policies is my plan. HR, SCM, and by-laws so that they speak to service delivery demands. I plan to visit all wards, to check all the projects. I plan to check projects and compare them with the IDP, compare them with the wards that were disadvantaged.

“The main focus is to re-establish the roads in town. And to put traffic lights on the N2 with the approval of Sanral. I want to establish the weight bridge so that all the heavy trucks that use our trucks can use the weight bridge.”

Khali said when he first came to act as a municipal manager, the morale in the staff of about 200 employees was low and some of them had been victimised and fired for allegedly standing up against malfeasance.

From there the council decided to conduct a forensic probe about the state of finances of the municipality. One of the eyebrow-raising transactions was when they discovered that a company was paid R7.5 million for installing a power plant.

Khali said it was found that the company billed the municipality even for a transformer worth R2.5 million when that transformer was supplied and paid for by Eskom which still directly supplies power to residents within the municipality.

“That company was forced to pay back the R2.5 million after the council resolved that if it does not do so, we will be forced to go to court to recoup the money. That was not all, we also found that a consulting firm from Durban was paid money to deliver emergency houses in Candover, Godlwako and Lubisi areas following a devastating storm.

“The company was paid R3.2 million to build 65 units, however, we found that only seven units were built. We acted and the company was forced to deliver according to the contract,” Khali told IOL.

With Uphongolo municipality being a largely agricultural area and surrounded by farms which are privately owned, land for development is scarce. At some point, the town could not be expanded because private land owners were refusing to let their land.

Khali said all that was about to change as they were reviewing all the 99-year leases some local business people have with the municipality.

Most of the leases were signed during the time of the apartheid government and may have expired or about to expire, thus giving the municipality the right not to renew them.

“These leases were signed by the old order government and they favoured a few. We have since started to review all of them. We understand that some may have expired, and some are about to expire.

“Once the lease is expired, within three months, the municipality has to indicate whether it intends to extended it or not. If it says nothing within the three months, the lease gets automatically extended for another 99 years. This is going to free up land for development,” Khali said.

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