Johannesburg - A R30 million pavement retrofitting project in Dube, Soweto, that was commissioned by the City of Joburg’s department of transport and is being implemented by the Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA), is now mired in controversy - even intrigue.
The community levelled accusations of political interference, nepotism, and cronyism at a local councillor and municipal officials.
Although the project proceeds as planned, residents are unhappy that their grievances about “outsiders” employed on the project, and what they say is a lack of transparency with the tender, were not addressed.
Tshepo Tsubane, 41, a long-time resident of Dube, said he had enough of what he said was a long history of politicians “doing nothing” about the community’s grievances.
“There is a broerskap (brotherhood) cabal. People from other wards are employed to work on projects in our ward,” Tsubane said.
Fanie Eric Khumalo, 44, who has been unemployed “for 10 years”, said of the 15 workers digging trenches for fibre optic cables in Dube, “only three are from here”. Dube residents should be hired for any projects in the area on a fair basis, “not this thing that you need to have an ANC or DA card to get a job on the projects in the township”.
“We don’t know how the tender was awarded. It was not advertised,” he said. The ANC councillor in Dube, Ben Saohatsi dismissed as “lies” accusations of politically-influenced favouritism concerning the allocation of job opportunities in Dube, and that “outsiders” were employed on local projects.
“We hold community meetings before projects start. There’s no one from outside. Local labourers, from Dube, are benefiting.
Of course we cannot hire everybody from the ward,” said Saohatsi.
Liphi Milton Mthembu, an induna at Dube Hostel and deputy chairperson of the IFP in the Soweto region, concurred with other residents. He said: “It is true that there were people working on the project who were not from Dube. There were people working on this project, whose proof of address indicated they were not residents of Dube, but actually lived in Tembisa and White City Jabavu, Soweto.
“We want people from here (Dube) to get jobs. CVs pile up at the councillor’s office.
“Ben (Saohatsi) eventually hired about 14 people. About 15 of us leaders and members of the community went to his office, and demanded the project be stopped immediately if the subcontractors would not hire local residents.
“He (Saohatsi) had his people quickly find their (Dube residents’) CVs in his office. All those people were hired on the spot.
“He (Saohatsi) was embarrassed, we had exposed wrong things happening in relation to the project.”
Community liaison officer Lethokuhle Vilakazi, who is responsible for ward 38 in Dube, said it was “not true” workers employed on the project were not from the ward. Vilakazi said part of her role was to “hire unskilled labour”. Yet, she appeared uncertain of her authority and role, and referred to the head of operations at the site - who she did not name - as “my boss”, which raises questions about her understanding of how she is a bridge of communication between the community and the main contractor.
The main contractor on the project, Randburg-based civils, roads and earthworks company, Bophelo Construction, whose on-site officers refused to comment, referred Sunday Independent to the JDA’s development manager, Ntombikayise Motsoari.
Motsoari said: “As the JDA, we are not aware of any political alliances within the project.”
Motsoari added: “The CVs for this particular project were submitted at the councillor’s office in Orlando West (Soweto).” But acting chief executive at the JDA, Douglas Cohen said: “That is not standard procedure.”
And Seipati More, the JDA’s stakeholder engagement manager, said: “No. The councillor (Ben Saohatsi) should not be receiving CVs.”
“Is this an isolated incident? said Cohen, “I don’t know.”