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Free State municipalities accrue R13.6 billion electricity bill

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Staff Reporter

Free State municipalities are now saddled with a collective electricity bill of nearly R13.6 billion as the local authorities are finding it difficult to collect more revenue from ratepayers, most of whom have lost jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs MEC Thembeni Nxangisa told the Free State Legislature when he delivered his 2021/22 budget vote speech in Botshabelo that municipalities are finding it increasingly difficult to deliver electricity, water and sanitation to communities as a result of the disease that has forced some businesses to shut down while others have scaled down operations.

“As at 31 January 2021, Free State municipalities collectively owed Eskom R13 586 893 860.00,” he said.

Nxangisa said settling the bill will not be easy because municipal collection rates are expected to continue declining until the end of 2021.

“Electricity is anticipated to present a major challenge as electricity revenue is often used to cross-subsidise other non-revenue municipal functions,” he pointed out.

The MEC said the situation has led to some service interruptions after Eskom decided to cut the supplies to municipalities owing the national power utility.

He said the capacity of municipalities to collect revenue needs to be improved.

Nxangisa also urged different government departments in the province to pay their dues to the municipalities.

“As a department, we have called for Intergovernmental Relations Forum intervention, because we believe that as the different government spheres, we need to engage each other in discussion, rather than taking each other to court,” he said.

“This, however, does not diminish the reality that municipalities need to pay their dues to Eskom . . .

“Our continued non-payment with the municipalities contributes adversely to their debt book and limits their capacity to perform their mandate.”

The Free State has one metropolitan municipality and four district municipalities, which are further subdivided into 18 local municipalities.

Nxangisa said his department was working closely with all municipalities to ensure they develop their annual performance reports in line with the Municipal Systems Act.

He said the municipalities were also being assisted to follow the law on the appointment and conditions of employment for senior managers.

“. . . we previously reported on our interventions in a number of municipalities in the 2019/2020 financial year . . . Masilonyane, Mafube and Maluti-a-Phofung local municipalities (had) all been placed under administration . . . We also reported that Mangaung Metropolitan Municipality was under (administration),” Nxangisa said.

“In Matjhabeng, Letsemeng, Kopanong, Tswelopele and Nala local municipalities we had to invoke Section 106 of the Municipal Systems Act.

“All these efforts were aimed at strengthening government’s ability to deliver efficient and effective services whilst at the same time rooting out any suspected malfeasance and ensuring a clean and accountable local government.”

The MEC said the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic had worsened the performance of an already struggling economy and subsequently worsened the burden on the province’s highly challenged municipalities.

He promised that in the 2021/22 financial year, his department will continue on the path of ensuring efficient, clean and accountable municipalities.

Nxangisa lamented the high vacancy rates in most municipalities saying this had contributed to poor service delivery in some cases as there were no people with the required skills to implement certain key projects.

“The vacancy lists at the municipalities are very high, there are sometimes no consequence management processes in place and there is also political infighting that contributes to the collapse of service delivery in some situations,” he said.

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Centlec warns cable theft masterminds

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STOLEN . . . Part of the copper cable recovered by the police

Power distribution company Centlec has issued a stern warning to people believed to be hired by unknown individuals or syndicates to steal copper cables from the power lines saying it will not allow them to destroy such key infrastructure and put the country’s economy at risk.

“This is war and we will fight it tooth and nail,” said Centlec in a statement.

“We want to send a strong message to the criminals and their handlers that we will not rest until they are behind bars,” added the company, which distributes electricity to Mangaung and surrounding municipalities.

It said it is aware that most of the criminals are just fronts who are sent by kingpins who then process the copper before selling it.

Centlec warned the kingpins that they would soon face the full might of the law.

“Some of the fronts happen to be vulnerable foreign nationals who are being used to steal our cables by their handlers,” said the company.

A joint operation by Centlec and the police in recent weeks has led to several arrests and the recovery of hundreds of kilogrammes of copper cable destined for scrapyards.

In the latest three incidents, a man was arrested in Botshabelo after being found in possession of copper cable believed to have been stolen.

Several people were also arrested following inspections at two scrapyards in Botshabelo where large amounts of copper were found.

At a scrapyard in Bloemfontein, a man was issued with a fine after he was found with copper weighing 150kg which he failed to account for.

Investigations are still underway to ascertain the real owner of the scrapyard for possible arrest.

“We are worried that many of these scrapyards are becoming a haven for criminals and promoting criminality,” said Centlec chief executive officer Malefane Sekoboto. – Staff Reporter

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Jilted lover up for double murder

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A 30-year-old man will appear in the Viljoenskroon Magistrates Court this Wednesday facing two charges of murder.

Fezile Dabi district police spokesperson Captain Malebo Khosana said the man was arrested for the double murder after he went to his ex-girlfriend’s house at about 4am on Saturday.

“He suspected that the ex-girlfriend was sleeping with the current boyfriend,” said Malebo in a statement.

“Upon . . . arrival at the ex-girlfriend’s home, he stabbed her to death and hit her son with a hammer on the head,” added the police spokesperson.

The suspect then fled the scene.

He is said to have told the police that thought the little boy was the woman’s current boyfriend.

Paramedics were called to the scene and declared both the 34-year-old mother and her 14-year-old son dead on the scene.

The suspect was later arrested after police were tipped of his whereabouts by community members.

The actual motive for the attack is still being investigated. – Staff Reporter

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Killer of businessman Helepi jailed for life

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SLAIN BUSINESSMAN . . . Tavern owner and former footballer Lejoni Alfred Helepi was attacked and fatally shot after taking a shower in his house in Phahameng, Bloemfontein

The man accused of killing Bloemfontein businessman and former Moroka Swallows FC player Lejoni Alfred Helepi in March 2016 has been sentenced to life imprisonment by the Free State High Court after being extradited from Lesotho.

Ntsane Togowe, 42, was given an additional 15 years by Judge Pitso Molitsoane on Monday after he was convicted of murder and robbery with aggravating circumstances.

Helepi was killed in his bathroom on March 29, 2016 in the robbery which included four other accused persons.

The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) said the slain businessman was attacked and fatally shot after taking a shower in his house in Phahameng, Bloemfontein, where he operated a tavern.

The accused took about R40 000 and fled the scene using Helepi’s vehicle.

The vehicle was later found abandoned in Phelindaba.

The high-profile case suffered a major setback in November 2016 when the Bloemfontein Regional Court struck it off the roll after the state failed to secure a trial date at the High Court and finalise investigations “within a reasonable period”.

Togowe and his co-accused, namely Baninzi Gxama Dira Moreenyane, Ntabiseng Clementinah Lempe and Maseboko Alice Majake, had spent about nine months in custody.

Their lawyer, Saintin Seitheisho, successfully argued against further remand saying the state had been given adequate time to finalise their investigations and set a trial date.

The matter was stood down for several hours to allow the state to come back with information on when the case could proceed, but it failed to do so, leaving the presiding officer with no choice but to strike the matter off the court roll and proceed by way of summons.

That decision inadvertently allowed some of the accused to disappear and the police could not find them when the case was supposed resume.

“Togowe handed himself over to the police in 2018, after widespread reports that he was wanted for the murder of Helepi and he was released on bail,” said NPA regional spokesperson Phaladi Shuping.

Togowe, who is believed to have pulled the trigger on the fateful day, eventually stood trial alone after he was granted bail.

But in October 2018, he mysteriously disappeared from the High Court after the judge briefly adjourned the matter to allow him to deliver judgment in the afternoon.

A warrant was immediately issued for his arrest.

“He allegedly escaped to Lesotho without a passport as it was handed to the investigating officer as part of his bail conditions. He was arrested for robbery in Lesotho on July 27, 2019 and the Hawks, upon knowing his whereabouts, started the process of extraditing him to South Africa. This was successfully done on 8 December 2021,” said Shuping.

In aggravation, state prosecutor Lucky Bontes requested the court to impose harsh punishment on the accused because he failed to show any remorse as he denied being involved in the murder and robbery of the deceased even after his conviction.

“The deceased was killed in the comfort of his own home, after taking a shower and one of the witnesses had to cover his body with a blanket,” said Bontes.

“It was obvious that he was not carrying a weapon but they shot him twice and there was no reason to kill him because they could have just taken whatever they wanted . . .”

Gxama was sentenced to 25 years imprisonment in June 2019.

The other three suspects, Moreenyane, Lempe and Majake are still at large.

Police made their first break-through in the matter just a day after the incident when Majake admitted to having planned the robbery with the other four.

Following the arrest of Majake and Lempe, the two women — both employed by Helepi at the time — then assisted the police to find the three men.

Togowe and Gxama are said to have stormed Helepi’s Tavern and demanded cash.

In a well-orchestrated move, the two are said to have held Majake and Lempe hostage in the tavern, yet they part of the robbery scheme.

They went on to demand keys to the safe.

At that point, the court heard, Togowe allegedly went to the bathroom in the house where Helepi was taking a shower and shot him in the upper body.

He collapsed and died on the spot.

The pair then took the cash, Helepi’s gun, three cellphones, house keys and several sets of car keys before fleeing the scene in a bakkie which belonged to the businessman.

They later abandoned it.

Free State Director of Public Prosecutions Advocate Navilla Somaru has commended Lesotho police, the Hawks and the prosecutor for their commitment in ensuring that Togowe was brought to book for the murder of Helepi. – Staff Reporter

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