Minister drawn into Mhlathuze Water saga

The ghosts of the past have come back to haunt Mhlathuze Water, a government-owned bulk water entity based in Richards Bay on the KwaZulu-Natal north coast.

This time, Water and Sanitation Minister Senzo Mchunu has been dragged into the shenanigans playing out at one of the biggest water entities in the country. At the heart of the schism is Mchunu’s alleged refusal to act on damning allegations against board chair Thabi Shange.

Shange has been implicated by a whistleblower who alleges that she abused her position to unduly benefit from service providers doing work with the entity. The whistleblower had brought the allegations to the attention of the board and Mchunu, but he did not find any joy. In a letter we have seen, the aggrieved informant has approached the DA in its capacity as the official opposition party in the National Assembly for intervention.

“The board chairperson did not deny this allegation, which was corroborated, on record, by the concerned service provider. Yet the minister, as the shareholder representative, has deemed it unimportant to attend to this serious breach of good governance protocols, which is pure criminality on the part of the chairperson,” reads the letter sent to DA’s shadow minister Leon Basson.

The damning allegations made by the whistleblower include that Shange coerced a service provider, law firm Mhlanga Inc, to represent her close confidant without paying for the legal services. He also claims that at one stage the board chairperson held a birthday celebration for his son at the luxurious Jozini Tiger Lodge. The bill was apparently paid for by another service provider.

The water utility, which was fingered in the State Capture Commission as a key conduit for money laundering and corruption, was hailed as a success story after the appointment of Mthokozisi Duze as CEO in 2019. The entity subsequently received a clean audit opinion from the auditor-general and reported a surplus.

Last year, Duze and CFO Babongiwe Mnyandu were placed on precautionary suspension by the board for a preliminary investigation to be conducted into allegations levelled at them.

Sthembelo Mhlanga of Mhlanga Inc confirmed that the law firm had, at Shange’s request, represented her friend in a legal matter involving the King Cetshwayo municipality. “Yes, I can confirm that the Mhlathuze board chairperson solicited our assistance in a legal matter, and we acted on behalf of her friend. She physically brought her to the office. We rendered the legal services but they were not paid for,” said Mhlanga.

Internal squabbles over lucrative water contracts are said to have stirred up animosity between those calling themselves corruption busters and a strong cabal that wants the entity to be a gravy train for politicians and their cronies.

The DA’s Basson said he had received the letter raising serious allegations against the water board chairperson.

“I have since requested the minister to answer my written questions on Mhlathuze Water and allegations against the chairperson of the water board,” said Basson.

The Department of Water and Sanitation was not available for comment.

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