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Free State municipality ordered to reinstate sacked mayor

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Staff Reporter

A Free State municipality will be ordered to reinstate the executive mayor it booted out more than a month ago or else the council will be dissolved, The Free Stater can exclusively reveal.

Setsoto Local Municipality – which runs the towns of Ficksburg, Senekal, Clocolan and Marquard – has been without a mayor since the incumbent, Komane Koalane, was controversially removed from the post through a vote of no confidence on April 14.

The municipality, infamous for water shortages and poor service delivery, has also been running without its head of administration after municipal manager Tshepiso Ramakarane was reportedly suspended on gross misconduct charges in November last year.

Infighting has seen the council failing to meet to resolve the leadership crisis and to approve its draft 2021/22 budget and draft Integrated Development Plan (IDP).

This has prompted Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) MEC Thembeni Nxangisa – whose portfolio includes local government – to intervene in an effort to bring normalcy back at Setsoto.

Responding this Tuesday to questions from The Free Stater, COGTA spokesperson Zolile Lobe said the council will be ordered to convene an urgent meeting to reinstate both Koalane and Ramakarane to their respective positions as executive mayor and municipal manager.

He said the vote of no confidence against the mayor was invalid as it had not been done in accordance with the municipality’s standing rules and orders, while the municipal manager had successfully challenged his suspension in court.

“The MEC has written a letter to the speaker of the municipality directing that the municipality needs to respect the decision of the court in the matter between the municipality and the municipal manager, Mr Ramakarane, where the court decided that the decision to suspend the latter is illegal and he must be reinstated with immediate effect,” Lobe said.

“The MEC also directs the council that the decision to pass a motion of no confidence against the mayor of the municipality is null and void, as it was not done with adherence to the standing rules and orders of the municipality.

“The MEC therefore advises the municipality to reinstate the mayor.”

Lobe said the situation at Setsoto was “really worrying to COGTA”.

“Because of the infighting in the council, the municipality has not held a meeting to adopt their IDP and the budget, which places the municipality in a precarious situation,” the spokesperson said.

“The MEC therefore directs the speaker that the municipality must convene a special council seating to correct the status of the municipality.”

The Free Stater’s several attempts to get a comment on the issues from Setsoto speaker Krog Mokuoane had not materialised by the time of publishing as he neither picked his calls nor responded to the questions texted and emailed to him.  

The opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) party says while the council continued to dillydally on the issue of the mayor and municipal manager, Setsoto communities – including the town of Ficksburg which grabbed international headlines when activist Andries Tatane was shot dead by the police during service delivery protests 10 years ago – are having to bear the brunt of the leadership vacuum at the municipality.

“Yes, everyone can come to the conclusion (that the municipality is on auto-pilot) and that observation will be correct since there is no executive mayor to perform the oversight role and responsibilities and municipal manager to deal with management and administrative duties,” DA councillor Moses Mokhele bemoaned in an earlier interview with The Free Stater.

“There is no Mayco (mayoral committee) and Section 80 committees are not sitting to perform oversight and accountability duties.

“The council must sit to approve the budget and revise the IDP in a council meeting but such will not happen if the speaker is failing to convene council meetings.

“We have called many times for the speaker to convene an urgent special council to deal with the election of the executive mayor and to deal with other critical issues of vacant and strategic positions and matters of compliance like your budget and IDP 2020/2021.”

While farmers and taxi drivers joined forces in March to protest against the deteriorating road conditions, sporadic water supplies, spilling sewage and uncollected garbage have become common sights in the municipal area.

“Service delivery is deteriorating at a high rate and one can say it has never been the priority since the term of this council started,” Mokhele lamented.

“Roads in all our towns are in bad conditions . . . water supply is a serious challenge,” the councillor added.

“Communities are without water for weeks and when the water is supplied it is for few hours and that water will be very dirty and undrinkable . . . (toilet) buckets are not removed for months and it is a serious health hazard.”

Lobe acknowledged the MEC had received a letter from the DA requesting him to intervene.

“You will realise that as a department, we are bound by Chapter 3 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, which talks of cooperative governance, to ensure smooth relations amongst all spheres of government,” the COGTA spokesperson said.

“We are further directed by Section 154 of the Constitution to assist the municipalities in the performance of their duties, where necessary.

“The current state in the municipality has the potential of compromising service delivery to the community and thus leading to the municipality’s failure in meeting their mandate as defined by Chapter 7 of the Constitution, under the heading ‘Objects of Local Government’.”

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Ngwathe pays Eskom to fix damaged line

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BLACKOUT . . . The Ngwathe electrical network tripped on Friday and damaged Eskom’s equipment due to overloading

Ngwathe Local Municipality in the northern Free State has paid R1.1-million to Eskom so it can repair damages to the power line in the area caused by overloading.

Eskom provincial spokesperson Stefanie Jansen van Rensburg said in a statement the payment was made on Monday morning and work to restore supplies to Parys and Vredefort has started.

“Repairs to the Eskom equipment will now commence,” said Van Rensburg.

“Based on the assessments of the damage, supply to Ngwathe should be restored by midnight tonight,” she added.

The spokesperson however said the initial repairs were focusing on the hot connections and will only be temporary to assist communities.

Another outage will be scheduled to repair the transformer bushings that were also damaged during the overloading incident.

The Ngwathe electrical network tripped on Friday and damaged Eskom’s equipment due to overloading.

“Since 2018, Eskom has warned Ngwathe that their continued exceedance of their Notified Maximum Demand (NMD) – the contracted amount of electricity supplied by Eskom to the Municipality – will eventually result in damage to the Eskom network and that the municipality needs to apply for an upgrade in their NMD.

“In August 2021 and in April 2022, Eskom informed the municipality that any damage to the Eskom network that is caused by the municipality’s negligence, will be at the municipality’s cost.

“The municipality agreed to this condition and, although they were well informed and aware of the risks, they did not take the necessary precautions or made sufficient efforts to upgrade their NMD,” Van Rensburg explained.

Following the incident, Eskom insisted on the municipality making an upfront payment as it is one of the municipalities in the province sitting with a huge debt to the national power utility.

As at end June, Ngwathe’s overdue debt to Eskom totalled R1.89 billion.

Eskom says this debt continues to grow as current accounts are not paid in full.

“Ngwathe’s non-adherence to payment conditions and negligence in protecting the power system, jeopardises Eskom’s financial sustainability as well as the security of supply to the residents of towns such as Parys and Vredefort.

“Supply to Ngwathe will be restored to the capacity as per the contracted NMD.

“Risks of overloading and consequent damage remain, and it is imperative that the municipality invests in upgrading its supply,” according to the power company. – Staff Reporter

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Mangaung electricity tariffs up

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POWER TARIFFS UP . . . Local power distributor Centlec has hiked electricity charges

Electricity tariffs in Mangaung have gone up by 7.47 percent.

In a statement released on Thursday night, local power distributor Centlec said the increase was due to come into effect at midnight on July 1 following approval by the National Electricity Regulator of South Africa.

The increase will cover the period July 1, 2022 to June 30, 2023.

“A guideline increase of 7.47 percent on electricity tariffs for Centlec was therefore approved with effect from the 1st of July 2022 for the 2022/23 financial year,” read part of the brief statement.

It said a more detailed outline of the increases will be announced soon. – Staff Reporter

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CUT students arrested for protesting against exams

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DISTURBANCE AT CAMPUS . . . Five students protesting against exams at the Central University of Technology in Bloemfontein have been arrested

Police have arrested five students from the Central University of Technology (CUT) for public violence after they embarked on an unsanctioned protest against the institution’s decision to have the mid-year exams conducted in person at its two campuses in Bloemfontein and Welkom starting this Thursday.

The exams are set to run until July 20.

The fracas follows an announcement by CUT acting vice-chancellor and principal Professor Alfred Ngowi on Wednesday in which he stated the exams would take place physically at the two campuses as scheduled.

Ngowi said a detailed discussion about online exams at the Welkom campus concluded that it would not be feasible to conduct online exams because circumstances have changed regarding the COVID-19 restrictions and that it was also against the policy of the university.

“CUT is a full-contact institution and not a distance learning institution and therefore does not have the authority to accredit examinations that are not done under CUT’s status as a full-contact institution,” said Ngowin in a recorded video.

Ngowi told the students that academic assessment is one of the important building blocks of their qualifications.

He warned the students against disrupting the exams saying they would face disciplinary action as such action will be illegal.

“The unreliability of the power supply may have unintended disruptive effects,” he said.

“The COVID-19 restrictions which necessitated virtual classes and virtual assessments have all been suspended and the various accrediting bodies to which CUT is affiliated may not accredit online assessments.

“Therefore, we will proceed with physical assessments.

“Management has made all necessary preparations for the smooth running of the mid-year assessments, which have been communicated to all students.

“Therefore, any student who plans to disrupt the physical examinations on our campuses must be aware of the legal and disciplinary consequences.

“In addition, the CUT management has put several measures in place to protect the constitutional rights of all our students who are prepared for and prefer to sit for physical assessments.

“Students must be aware that any disruptions of the planned and scheduled assessments are illegal and unlawful, and students who act outside the law will have to face the consequences of their actions.

“Students further need to note that failing the upcoming academic assessments will directly impact their NSFAS funding status.

“No further funding will be available to NSFAS-funded students who fail the assessments or fail to take the upcoming assessments.”

But, in a statement, members of the South African Student Congress (SASCO) at the university argued that since all assessments had taken place online due to the COVID-19 restrictions, “it is only normal that the exams take place online as well”.

SASCO also argued that some students had not received their allowances from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) and it would therefore be impossible for them to write their exams in a physical setting.

But Ngowi addressed the matter earlier in the same video: “As previously communicated through the Student Representative Council, NSFAS-funded students who still have unresolved challenges with their accommodation are encouraged to make written submissions to the relevant faculty deans in that regard.”

Park Road police spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Thabo Covane said members of Public Order Police Unit arrested five male students for public violence at the CUT’s Bloemfontein campus on Thursday morning.

He said the group of protesting students was warned by the operational commander to disperse within a given time as they were contravening the conditions stipulated in an issued court order but refused to do so.

“The protesting students became violent and started throwing stones and bottles at the police and the security officers,” said Covane.

“The police used stun grenades to disperse the crowd. The other group ran into King Edward Street and blocked traffic by placing stones on the road.

“Police then arrested the five students with ages ranging from 18 to 22 years.”

The arrested students are expected to appear in the Bloemfontein Magistrates Court on Monday facing charges of public violence and contravening a court order. – Staff Reporter

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