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Disgruntled Free State artists pin hopes on parliament

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Staff Reporter

Disgruntled artists in the Free State who have been staging a sit-in at PACOFS in Bloemfontein for the last 24 days over a host of maladministration and corruption allegations are now pinning their hopes on a possible meeting with parliament’s portfolio committee on sport, arts and culture set for Tuesday.

The artists, who are members of the Cultural and Creative Industries Federation of South Africa (CCIFSA), have occupied the office of PACOFS acting chief executive officer and artistic director Meshack Xaba since March 10 and have vowed not to leave the provincial arts hub until their grievances have been addressed.

About 60 artists are now living at PACOFS where they are sleeping in some of the offices and studios.

“PACOFS has been sinking for almost 20 years,” said CCIFSA Free State provincial coordinator Mbuyiselo Nqodi in an interview with The Free Stater.

“Parliament’s portfolio committee on sport, arts and culture will be conducting an oversight visit here on Tuesday.

“We have made contact with them saying we wish to make a presentation during that oversight visit.

“We want to put our issues on the table so that they get to know what’s happening.”

Asked what exactly CCIFSA would like to tell the portfolio committee, Nqodi said:

“We want to tell them that their inaction will lead to the demise of this institution.

“We want to tell them that if they don’t act so, it will be useless to have this institution in the province and our interests are clear: we want it to live, we want it to benefit our people.

“Another thing we want to tell them is that it must not be business as usual.

“For over 20 years, they have decided to look the other way when things are deteriorating here in the province, especially at PACOFS.

“So, it is high time that they force the minister to do the right thing.”

At the top of their demands, the artists want Xaba to leave because he is accused of failing to run the institution to the benefit of the artists and they also accuse him of corruption.

Nqodi said they want PACOFS to urgently implement the recommendations of an investigative report by Morar Incorporated Accounting Firm produced in 2018 which implicates some senior staff members, including Xaba and a board member.

The investigation was commissioned following long-standing allegations of corruption and maladministration at the centre.

The Morar report, among other things, recommended that PACOFS should take disciplinary action against Xaba for alleged unethical conduct.

According to Nqodi, the artistic director is accused of a host of issues in the report, including fabricating minutes of meetings.

The artists therefore want Xaba to leave because of the seriousness of the allegations against him.

“We want him to take his jacket and leave,” said an emphatic Nqodi during the interview in one of the kitchens on the fourth floor where some of the artists were preparing meals for everyone.

“We are fighting a culture of ripping the artists of their (IP) intellectual property, we are fighting a culture of undermining the artists, and we are also fighting the laziness that’s coming from the side of the artistic director.”

Nqodi said prior to the arrival of Xaba, PACOFS was producing over 80 shows per year, but this has since gone down drastically.

“His best performance is about 35 shows. That was the year that he arrived,” he said.

“Since then, PACOFS has only been able to do 12 shows a year, yet this is the biggest institution in the province with about four theatres and several studios.

“They are not utilised . . . their artistic programme is not benefiting the artists of the Free State.

“The artistic programme is only getting R2 million yet they are getting over R30 million from the Department of Sport, Arts and Culture.”

Nqodi said the challenges faced by PACOFS are not artist-made, but are a result of management failure.

He said the institution keeps on commissioning reports that are not implemented as well as spending money that is supposed to benefit the sector on legal fees.

“Basically, we are fighting bread and butter issues for the artists. We want to make sure that the institution works so that artists can depend on it,” he said, adding their protest is not aimed at disrupting daily operations at PACOFS.

He said the COVID-19 pandemic has been most devastating on artists as most of them have not been able to work in over a year.

“Our mothers who work in the kitchens have been able to go back to work and are able to put food on the table but the arts sector has largely remained closed,” he lamented.

The artists are also running workshops and other training programmes in order to optimise their time during the sit-in.

PACOFS council chairperson Advocate Thato Moeeng said at the beginning of the protest that the arts centre acknowledged the issues raised by the artists and would like to see them being resolved.

“Matters raised by the local artistic community regarding alleged corruption and maladministration have been duly acknowledged and are being investigated by the newly appointed PACOFS council.

“We are unreservedly committed to ensuring that fairness and transparency remain at the heart of all operations and that the integrity of the organisation is maintained,” said Moeeng in a statement issued on March 15.

Free State Premier Sisi Ntombela and the MEC for Sport, Arts, Culture and Recreation, Limakatso Mahasa, have met with the artists but not much headway was made from the meeting.

PACOFS falls under the national Department of Sport, Arts, Culture, thereby limiting the powers of the provincial government to address issues there.

The artists have also staged a protest outside the premier’s office in a bid to pressure her to urge Sport, Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa to act.

In the 2018/2019 financial year, the Auditor General gave PACOFS a disclaimer audit opinion saying it had insufficient information on the institution’s finances as the arts centre could not provide reliable invoices and other supporting documents on its operations to allow for an informed audit decision.

The AG said the financial statements submitted for auditing were not prepared in accordance with the prescribed financial reporting framework and neither were they supported by full and proper records.

THE NEXT MEAL . . . Some of the artists preparing food for the other protesters

 

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Mangaung warns residents to brace for heavy rainfall

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DISRUPTIVE DOWNPOUR LOOMING . . . Mangaung Metropolitan Municipality has warned heavy rainfall is expected to pound the capital

The Mangaung Metropolitan Municipality has warned residents in and around the Free State capital to brace for heavy rainfall that could cause flooding this Friday.

The municipality is urging drivers to take extra caution by reducing speed and switching their headlights on, while pedestrians are being reminded to be careful when crossing the road and to avoid crossing rivers and streams where water is above the ankles.

“Residents of Mangaung Metro, particularly in the former Naledi region, are urged to be cautious on the road and in their homes as the South African Weather Service has issued an impact-based warning . . . for possible disruptive rainfall,” the metro said in a statement.

“This warning is valid for Friday, 20 May 2022 until Saturday, 21 May 2022.”

“Heavy rains are also predicted in Bloemfontein on Friday,” it added.

“Localised flooding can be expected in susceptible low-lying areas, roads, formal/informal settlements and bridges.” – Staff Reporter

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Mangaung speaker vows not to be silenced by charges

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DEFIANT . . . Mangaung council speaker Stefani Lockman-Naidoo

Mangaung council speaker Stefani Lockman-Naidoo has vowed not to stop fighting corruption in the metro after she was summoned to a disciplinary hearing set for next month for disobeying her party, the ANC, resulting in the axing and suspension of senior officials in the municipality.

The ANC Mangaung Interim Regional Committee (IRC) has summoned her to a disciplinary hearing on June 7 to answer to charges of knowingly and intentionally defying a resolution of the ANC Caucus in council after she allowed a motion to be debated without referring it to party structures in the council.

Lockman-Naidoo’s tiff with her party dates back to January when the Mangaung IRC announced her suspension after she was accused of defying the ANC’s instruction no to proceed with a sitting which resulted in then acting city manager Sello More being removed from office.

The Mangaung speaker also told The Free Stater on Thursday that she was being targeted for presiding over a recent council sitting that resolved to suspend several allegedly corrupt officials in the municipality.

“We are being charged for suspending a corrupt HOD (head of department),” said Lockman-Naidoo, referring to David Nkaiseng who heads corporate services.

A council meeting held on May 12 – after receiving an investigation report from Matlho Attorneys – resolved, among others, to bring charges against Nkaiseng for his alleged role in unlawfully appointing the officials resulting in the flouting of municipal policy of appointment of officials as well as flouting municipal staff regulations and the code of conduct for municipal officials.

“We are being targeted because we are purging these corrupt officials of Mangaung,” charged Lockman-Naidoo.

“I will not tolerate any corruption . . . Wherever I go I will be known as that speaker that didn’t tolerate corruption,” she added confidently.

The speaker was however quick to point out that those charging her had no authority to do so.

“But you see, the charges are not from the ANC because they didn’t ask for permission from the provincial coordinator (Paseka Nompondo) to charge us,” she said.

“The region itself is an illegitimate structure. Its term has expired and these are just factions . . .

“It’s a faction of the region that is charging us – it’s not the ANC.

“They are the ones that are purging us because we are not part of their faction.

“This is what’s going on. They don’t tolerate me.”

Lockman-Naidoo claimed the faction was not happy with the suspension of the HOD.

“The council resolution . . . says several criminal charges must be opened against the HOD himself and relevant officials,” she said.

“And I’m wrong for suspending a person like that?

“I don’t mind being charged at all because we did the right thing as council.

“They are saying . . . they are charging us because I allowed the item to sit in council.

“It’s not my item – it’s a council item. I couldn’t remove it. There was nothing I could do.”

Council also resolved that Nzimeni Maswabi be charged by acting city manager for his role in approving unlawful staff appointments.

It also wants Thabang Joseph Mpeli to be charged for his role in the drafting of unlawful appointment letters.

However, ANC Mangaung IRC spokesperson Ncamisa Ngxangisa has dismissed Lockman-Naidoo’s claims saying the party was not targeting anyone but it simply wanted to put its house in order.

In a separate interview, Ngxangisa said there were concerns some councillors could be working with the opposition, hence the probe.

“We are not targeting individuals. We are dealing with members of the ANC who happen to be councillors in this regard,” he told The Free Stater.

“This is after we received concerns that there could be some members who are voting with the opposition, against the position of the caucus of the ANC in that municipality.

“We took everything as it is, and referred the matter to our sub-committee that deals with issues of discipline so that they inquire into all these allegations levelled against all these comrades.

“But at the same time, it gives these comrades an opportunity to respond or query any evidence that may be presented against them.”

Ngxangisa said every organisation implements disciplinary processes when something goes wrong and the ANC was only exercising its right to do so.

“We are a political party, we contest elections,” he said.

“We are relying on our councillors to make sure that our policy position and decisions find expression in that council.

“If there are allegations that such is not happening, any self-loving political party will stand up and do something about it.

“These accusations are neither here nor there – no one is targeted.

“There are concerns that the centre is not holding in that municipality.

“Our caucus through the chief whip is not given enough support by our councillors and there are such allegations.

“That’s a cause for serious concern which must be attended to so that the ANC can at least enjoy its majority in that municipality.”

The Mangaung IRC spokesperson emphasised that the ANC was firmly against any corrupt activities but indicated that councillors were expected to represent the interests of the party and not their own.

“When we say all councillors must toe this line, we expect everyone to toe that line. Anyone who goes astray is a concern to us,” he said.  – Staff Reporter

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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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