Sunday, 14 September 2014

The murky waters of Soweto politics

On Wednesday I got a call from Cecil Molopo, Chairman of the DA branch in Ward 53, Johannesburg. This is one of the 10 wards that make up my constituency, Soweto West. It's enormous, nearly the size of the whole of Soweto, extending from Doornkop Extension 1 westwards to the borders of Randfontein. Most of the ward is veld, hence its size, and is home to several gold mines. Cecil sounded very distressed and wanted to meet me as soon as possible. So we arranged to meet on Friday morning.

The venue was the Green Village sports ground, which is a very generous term to describe a mud field with no facilities apart from a shed which doubles up as the local community hall. I had run an activist training course there in April and it is used regularly for meetings and various local gatherings.

Along with Cecil a few other DA members were there and soon our PR councillor, Timothy Radebe arrived with our hard-working communications support officer, Kgomotso Duma. Clearly something serious was up.

Last week the local (ANC) councillor, Busisiwe Radebe (no relation to Timothy) was arrested along with her 17 year-old daughter and three or four other people on charges of kidnapping. The story goes that a gang of drugged-up robbers had burgled some houses, including hers, and were chased down by a vigilante mob intent on meeting out street justice, claiming the police do nothing to protect them. The mob cornered one of the burglars in his home which he shared with his mother. After sending his mother outside he locked himself inside the house whereupon the mob set it alight, burning him to death. In all the chaos and confusion, Radebe had offered refuge to some of the perpetrators, which the police interpreted as kidnapping. She is still in jail, having been refused bail. There is a widely-held suspicion an ANC faction is a conspiring to keep her there.

Radebe was elected a councillor in 2011 and has taken an even-handed stance on many community issues. The latest concerns a R10 billion development due to start soon in the ward, involving the building of 24 000 houses, 7 clinics, 3 malls and some industrial/commercial properties. She formed a projects sub-committee of the Ward Committee, inviting opposition parties including the DA, EFF and IFP to sit on it. The sub-committee has oversight of all projects affecting the ward, including this one.

This approach has angered some of her ANC colleagues who only want their members on the sub-committee. One of the most vociferous in this camp is the former ANC councillor for Ward 53, who sits on the sub-committee and apparently is gunning for Radebe's removal.

Added to this witch's brew is an arrogant and bullying police station commander who was able to persuade the magistrate in the bail hearing not to release Radebe. Is he in cahoots with the former councillor and his supporters?

Timothy is not taking this lying down. There is a suspicion the anti-Radebe faction is eyeing the R10 billion tender and licking its lips at the prospect of buckets full of graft and baksheesh. Without the Ward Committee signing the Terms of Reference with the City and project developer, the project can't go ahead. They have not been signed yet because of wrangling over who gets the plumb sub-contracts and who is employed as workers on the construction site.

Such a big project naturally attracts herds of carnivorous types and it has become standard practice for ANC power structures to decide on who gets to feed on the carcass first. Our job as the DA is to make sure this does not happen. I will be keeping a watchful eye on developments and making sure to blow it open if there is even a whiff of malfeasance or corruption.

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