Mbombela’s first communist Speaker has vowed that within one month he would establish a ward committee that the municipality has failed to do in almost three years.
Since the 2016 local government elections, elected ward councillors throughout the country established ward committees, but not for councillor Themba Bulunga, of Ward 26 in Mpumalanga.
Bulunga tried several times to set up the ward committee, but was allegedly prevented from doing so by the former speaker of the Mbombela local municipality, Mandla Msibi.
This is the task that South African Communist Party leader and newly elected speaker of the Mbombela municipality, Sipho Siwela, has committed to do within the first month in office.
Siwela, who is the district chairperson of the SACP in Mpumalanga’s Phillip Radebe District, became the first communist since the dawn of democracy to occupy such a senior position in the Mbombela municipality.
He refused to be drawn “into the politics”, but promised to establish the long overdue ward committee.
“I’m not prepared to comment on what happened in the past, but all I can say is that by the end of June 2019, I shall have established that ward committee,” said Siwela.
ANC spokesperson, Sasekani Manzini’s response to media enquiries on allegations that former Speaker, Msibi, prevented the establishment of the ward committee, was a mere:
“I have referred the matter to the region to respond.”
More than a month later, however, no response has been forthcoming.
Msibi and Bulunga were once close comrades when they established an organisation called Ubunye Be-Pienaar (The Unity of the people of Pienaar) – a red overall-clad group which gained notoriety for violent protests and stay away actions at Pienaar township, east of Nelspruit.
Both were fierce opponents of deputy president David Mabuza, and they successfully used the organisation against several attempts by Mabuza’s lieutenants to remove Msibi as a ward councillor.
Mabuza could no longer ignore Msibi’s influence when his activities threatened to disrupt the 2016 local government elections in the township.
It forced Mabuza to succumb to the pressure and he instructed the department of public works, roads and transport to ensure that only Pienaar businesses were appointed to do work in the area.
Following Mabuza’s concessions, greed crept in, claiming its first casualty, ANC deputy chairperson, Zane Phelembe, who raised objections that the companies submitted to the department of PWRT were not from Pienaar.
His killers have never been arrested, since that fateful day in on 27 May 2016, adding to the list of unsolved political assassinations in Mpumalanga province.
Msibi’s red-clad Ubunye Be Pienaar “troops” became a common feature whenever Mabuza appeared at the Pretoria High Court, during his spy allegations case against Mathews Phosa.
Mabuza promoted Msibi into the ANC’s provincial executive committee. The wedge between Msibi and Bulunga grew even further, leading to even more violent clashes between the two, once former comrades-in-arms.
Ever since, Msibi’s fortunes turned around. He became the ANC’s provincial elections manager and recently, Mpumalanga premier, Refilwe Mtshweni, appointed him as the MEC for local government.
Ironically, one of the one of the objectives of his department is to promote a responsive, accountable, effective and efficient local government – a privilege that the people of ward 26 were deprived for three years.
This was despite the multiple criminal cases that Bulunga has opened against his erstwhile comrade.
But, it appears that it will be a matter of better late than never, when the people of Ward 26, will, for the first time in three years, have a say on how they are governed.
The establishment of ward committees is provided for in legislation, which means that the Mbombela local municipality was in contravention of Sections 73 and 74 of the Municipal Structures Act and the Municipal Systems Act for the past three years.
Ward committees are mechanism through which government communities. They are aimed at enhancing participatory democracy by ensuring that elected ward committee members raise issues of concerns from their communities and ensure that the people have a say in decision-making.
A right that the people of Pienaar Ward 26 had been denied due to internecine power struggles.
Mbombela local municipality spokesperson, Joseph Ngala, did not respond to calls and texted media enquiries.