The municipal manager of the Alfred Nzo municipality in the Eastern Cape is in hot water after asking the mayor to account for corruption allegations against him.
Zamile Sikhundla was suspended during the festive holidays when councillors were called back from recess for a council meeting to pass the resolution for his suspension.
According to those within the municipality, the decision has sent shock waves about the abuse of political power by Mayor Vukile Mhlelembana. Mhlelembana is also the ANC chairperson for the Alfred Nzo region.
The drama started on December 8 when Sikhundla, after receiving a media query from this newspaper three days earlier, penned a letter to his political principal, asking for accountability for the issues raised.
As the accounting officer of the municipality, Sikhundla viewed the allegations against Mhlelembana as “issues of concern” since they constituted financial misconduct.
Mhlelembana’s company, Ubuntu Bam Rural Developers, was a subcontractor to Ziinzame Consulting Engineers which does business with the municipality in contracts totalling tens of millions of rands.
Most of the business was done during the time Mhlelembana was the regional secretary of the ANC before he graduated to become mayor.
According to company records, Mhlelembana and his wife resigned as directors in December 2021, but the compan lived on with a new director, Dinilethu Dlamini. According to those in the know, Dlamini is “just a front,” while Mhlelembana remains the real puppet master in the background, who continues to draw financial benefits from the company.
Mhlelembana allegedly remains the bank signatory to the company’s bank account and that he is allegedly related to Ziinzame director Wandile Njomi. Multiple attempts to get comment from Mhlelembana drew blanks.
“The allegations contained herein are of a serious nature and may constitute a financial offence. In terms of Regulation 11 of the MFMA (Municipal Financial Management Act), I am obliged to authorise an investigation of the facts and circumstances of the allegations as set out above and allow you to respond to these allegations,” Sikhundla wrote to Mhlelembana on December 8.
“In the light of the aforesaid regulation, kindly let me have a response to these allegations within five days of receipt of this letter; and upon receipt of your response within five days, alternatively, if no response is received within five days, I will authorise an investigation of the facts and circumstances of the allegations.”
Instead of responding to the letter, the mayor allegedly influenced the calling of a council meeting on December 19, five days after the council was meant to be on recess.
After the council meeting, Mhlelembana wrote to Sikhundla, informing him of the council’s “intention to suspend you with full pay and your benefits”. In the letter, the mayor alleged that the MEC for local government in the province had reported that Sikhundla must be held accountable for the failure of the municipality to implement the adopted government policy.
On December 28, after public holidays, Christmas and Boxing Day were counted among the seven days Sikhundlahad to make his case in what appeared to be a rush to purge him; he was eventually suspended.
Senior officials within the municipality say his suspension was written on the wall the day he asked Mhlelembana questions about corruption.
“The MM (municipal manager) was suspended for doing his job of asking the mayor to account for allegations of corruption. If the mayor had nothing to hide, why the rush to even recall councillors who report to him as ANC regional chairman back to council when they are in recess just to get the MM suspended?
“Something is fishy, and someone is scared,” said one senior manager who cannot be named because they are not authorised to speak to the media.
“The correspondence by the MEC they used as an excuse is old and was not about the Alfred Nzo MM only but involved all accounting officers of local municipalities under Alfred Nzo except Matatiele, who are still standing. This was nothing but a political ploy by the mayor to evade accountability.”