eThekwini’s powerful city boss Sibusiso Sithole has been placed under 24-hour armed guard over fears for his safety.
Concerns about his safety rose after he had implemented his radical plan to restructure the city, a move that has led to the departure of some senior officials and fears that many more will follow.
There are also fears some powerful business people may lose their multimillion-rand contracts during a review spearheaded by Sithole.
“I fear for my life after rubbing people up the wrong way,” Sithole said. Although he had not received any direct death threats, he said he has been advised by state security agencies to beef up security around him, as his life could be in danger.
Sithole told the Tribune that this all stemmed from the Manase Report, which implicated a number of high-ranking officials and politicians in graft allegations. People both inside and outside city hall fear they might face fraud and corruption investigations led by Sithole.
“I fear I might be killed if I investigate deeper and investigate everything, but so many things are wrong in eThekwini,” he said.
At the centre of the controversy are his efforts to:
l Clean the city’s supply chain management.
l Review bid committees.
l Review most of the contracts awarded by the city, valued at hundreds of millions of rand.
Sithole was reluctant to discuss the security issue further, but maintained many of eThekwini’s problems stem from its flawed supply chain management.
The contracts under review include lucrative housing contracts awarded to Shauwn and Sbu Mpisane’s Zikhulise Cleaning and Maintenance and the Durban Transport contract, which was split to several bus companies and a consortium of taxi owners, among which are the Gcaba brothers.
However, Sithole said many people spoke of a tiff between him, Mpisane, Mandla Gcaba and former national police commissioner Bheki Cele, which was something that was unfounded.
“Contrary to what is said, I have never targeted Mpisane. If anything, it was the head of housing that wrote an affidavit regarding the Mpisane contract,” he said.
However, Sithole said he was working hard to overhaul the city’s procurement system, which favoured whites, Indians and a few specific black people. Contracts need to be distributed among all, not a selected few. We need our own wealthy middle class, not a select few,” he said.
This is not the first time Sithole has been placed under 24-hour guard. In 2010, when he was the administrator of both the Indaka and Okhahlamba municipalities, he became caught between warring IFP factions in both councils.
Despite concerns over his safety, Sithole said he would continue to right wrongs at the council.
“I cannot be sidetracked, but I know if I were to look at things that happened from 10 years back I will be killed (now).”
He said he was determined to implement the recommendations of the Manase report.
Prior to his departure, Bheki Mkhize, former deputy city manager for safety and security, penned a scathing report alleging Sithole was systematically purging certain individuals.
To this Sithole responded: “It is a fact that the contracts of Derek Naidoo (deputy city manager and procurement manager) and Bheki Mkhize had expired and the municipality exercised its right not to renew them. The Sithole ‘fear factor’ that people are talking about is unfounded.”
Sithole also dismissed suggestions he was receiving political orders from above.
“While I often do not agree with opposition parties, the same goes for the ruling party sometimes,” he said.
Sithole was also unrepentant about his bid to pursue clean supply chain management by reviewing membership of the bid committees.
“I want to beef it up with ‘proper’ people who have integrity,” he said.
There were three bid committees – bid specification, evaluation and adjudication – and they each consisted of five members.
He wanted to review the current system where you have one official sitting in more than one committee.
“There are officials who are members of both the bid and evaluation committees – and that is just not on. That is like being the player and the referee at the same time.”
As for the vacancies left on the committees by the departure of Derek Naidoo and the suspension of deputy head of supply chain management operations Sandile Ngcobo, Sithole, said he would also appoint two members to replace them.
According to supply chain management policies, Sithole has the authority to appoint committee members.
“But there are guidelines that I use when appointing officials,” he said, dismissing allegations he would only appoint officials who are seen as his allies to ensure tenders go to the “right” people.
“I don’t sit in any of these committees nor dictate to anyone how to do their job, or who should be awarded a certain project. That is not what I’m about and certainly not how I conduct myself,” he said.
The review process, he said, should be completed by the end of the month. – Sunday Tribune