Fear stalks city’s top managers

Durban City Hall. | ARCHIVES

Durban City Hall. | ARCHIVES

Published Nov 13, 2023


Durban — The killing of three senior eThekwini Municipality managers in the city’s water and sanitation unit has struck fear among workers, with claims that their deaths were related to lucrative water delivery tankers and plant hiring tenders.

Those in the know said water delivery tenders were riddled with corruption and threatened the lives of the unit’s senior managers, so much so that another official resigned this week, fearing for his safety.

The killing of Emmanuel Ntuli last week, his colleague Khumbulani Khumalo in September and Phumzile Qatha in April last year were suspected to be linked to their work in the water and sanitation unit, although the police would not confirm this.

Ntuli, who was the unit’s acting senior manager in the plants and logistics division, was shot and killed at his home in Mandeni, on the North Coast of KwaZulu-Natal, on November 3.

Khumalo, the unit’s community services manager was slain while seated in a council vehicle in Inanda, and Qatha was gunned down on April 24 last year at a water depot in Ottawa, north of Durban.

With the exception of Qatha, who was in charge of assigning water tankers to different areas under the municipality’s jurisdiction during the height of Durban’s water woes when the floods damaged infrastructure that resulted in water cuts, the other deceased had powers to sign off on tenders to successful bidders.

Ntuli was among three officials in the water and sanitation unit who were provided with bodyguards by the metro police. However, when he was shot on Friday last week, he had left them behind as he was going to his family in Mandeni.

Three days after Ntuli’s killing, water and sanitation’s support services acting deputy head Mthunzi Gumede submitted his resignation letter, citing concerns for his safety.

“He has resigned following the assassination of two senior managers Emmanuel Ntuli and Khumbulani Khumalo (who) were killed and no arrests have been made,” read the WhatsApp message, which Gumede confirmed.

While the spokesperson for the municipality, Mluleki Mntungwa, did not respond to questions, Themba Mvubu, the chairperson of the human settlements and infrastructure service committee, which has an oversight role over the water and sanitation unit, believed that the assassinations could be linked to the recent purchase of water tankers.

The new City-owned fleet was meant to cut down on multimillion-rand tenders awarded to private companies.

But the purchase of 55 tankers at the cost of R138 million did not negate the life-threatening situation of workers and instead might have made things worse, said Mvubu.

“If you have officials in the City who used to enter into agreements with owners of tankers and now you have a situation where the City decided to purchase its own, it would interrupt the corrupt relationship between the officials and prospective bidders who say you must prioritise our water tankers because we are going to give you some money.

“Obviously you are going to disturb this kind of arrangement,” he said.

The tankers were introduced in August as an addition to the existing fleet of 100.

Mvubu, the EFF councillor who was the political head in charge of the water and sanitation unit, said owners of private tankers had viewed the water and sanitation unit as “low-hanging fruit for those who want to get rich quickly”.

He suspected that Ntuli and Khumalo were victims of unscrupulous tenderpreneurs who were opposed to cutting down on outsourcing tankers.

Mvubu said before the new tankers were bought, water and sanitation would spend over R100m per annum paying for the services of about 80 private trucks.

He said while police and other investigating authorities had not provided conclusive evidence, water delivery vehicle tenders remained the prime cause for the killings.

Mvubu described outsourcing of government services as the source of most corruption in government institutions.

“It has been a norm for many years that for a prospective bidder to succeed you must pay some bribe to the government officials to stand a better chance,” he said.

Another source to whom the Sunday Tribune spoke said there were other corrupt activities that could have led to the killings and threats.

“Such corruption included rife fraudulent overtime claims, theft of petrol and diesel, contracts and all sorts of things that benefit unscrupulous employees and political interference.

“People would fraudulently claim hours they did not work, and when such claims were questioned or rejected, the claimants would complain to certain politicians,” the source said.

Nhlanhla Kweyama, a South African Municipal Workers’ Union shop steward in the water and sanitation unit, said they had submitted a memorandum to the municipality complaining about the law enforcement’s lack of action against the killers.

“Right now, workers don’t know who will be killed next. We are not happy that the municipality has formed a task team to probe the murders. We should be seeing Hawks frequenting the unit (water and sanitation), which is something that will give hope to workers – that actions are taken to deal with the crime,” said Kweyama.

Addressing mourners at Ntuli’s memorial service held at Durban station on Thursday, Ednick Msweli, head of the water and sanitation unit, said his workforce faced life-threatening situations.

“There is a lot of fear and anxiety. They do not know who is next as we have heard of hit lists,” he said.

eThekwini mayor Mxolisi Kaunda also told the mourners that the City would take action to address the situation.

“It cannot be that so many people from the same department would be killed so mercilessly.

“We have to do something quickly to save the lives of the employees of this unit. We need to be active now because the people in this unit are dying,” said Kaunda.

Provincial police spokesperson Colonel Robert Netshiunda said they were investigating the killings and would not confirm if anyone had been arrested.

Sunday Tribune