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Q&A: DA leader pleads with voters to ‘make wise choices’

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The leader of the DA in the Free State, Werner Horn, says people should not be persuaded by how they have voted in local government elections in the past, but whether the promises made by different parties have been met. Horn, who is leading his party’s campaign in the province, told The Free Stater in a wide-ranging interview that the DA has set its sights on at least four municipalities in the province where it believes the ruling ANC will get less than 50 percent of votes because it has failed to meet its promises of improved service delivery and better lives for residents in those municipalities. Horn is also a member of the National Assembly. Excerpts:

The 2021 local government elections are coming at a time when people are faced with a host of issues including the high unemployment rate, poor service delivery starting at municipal level and rising poverty. Some people have even said they won’t be voting. How are you approaching your election campaign?

Indeed, communities of the Free State face a multitude of challenges in the form of very high unemployment, poverty in many communities and poor service delivery for basic services in several municipalities. I would hope that voters would look at the solutions parties offer in order for them to inform their choices. The reality is that . . . your ballot is still the way to change your circumstances. So, from Democratic Alliance side, we say it’s no coincidence that both the Western Cape province where we are in government and in the municipalities we lead in the country . . . they are distinguished by a number of markers from those we don’t run. For instance, the average unemployment in those municipalities is much lower than the national average. That is because good municipal governance attracts the type of investments that lead to job creation.

There are millions of voters right now who will not vote on November 1 because they don’t see the need because services have remained poor in their communities. How do you convince them to look at things differently?

If municipalities spend public funds in a prudent way, they can alleviate poverty by creating employment opportunities. In the Free State, things like the cleaning of streets and refuse removal have deteriorated. To a large extent, municipalities sit with bloated staff, yet these frontline workers are not included in their staff. So, our offer to voters is to say, in the Free State we can replicate the clean governance we implement in the municipalities we run, and also the type of initiatives that will attract investments. We strongly believe that ultimately, to assist residents of this province, we must get the basics right in terms of service delivery. There must clean water when you turn on the tap, speedy attendance to service delivery issues, maintenance of roads and other infrastructure. Those are the types of things that make a difference to the lives of residents and attract investment. 

But in the municipalities that you run, you have often been accused of focusing on the affluent suburbs and ignoring the townships in terms of service delivery. How do you respond to that?

That’s not correct. In most municipalities in the Free State . . . whatever they receive in terms of capital grants from the national government, they are not necessarily spent on improving infrastructure in the townships. We are saying, if we are in charge of an administration after this year’s election, we will see to it that those Capital Infrastructure Grants are spent on projects that will establish proper infrastructure in the townships as well as their maintenance.

Do you have any particular municipalities in the Free State that you are targeting to take over?

It will be good to bring the ANC below 50 percent in all Free State municipalities. But the Free State is one of the strongholds of the ANC. Based on previous election results, we are of the opinion that in specifically four municipalities . . . if the downward trajectory of the ANC continues and our growth continues, we could bring the ANC below 50 percent and try and form an alternative government. We are looking at Metsimaholo municipality. The ANC failed to reach 50 percent in the 2016 election. We also want Mangaung Metro as well as Moqhaka, Matjhabeng local municipalities. There is a strong chance that the ANC can be brought under 50 percent in those municipalities. Maluti-a-Phofung municipality will also be interesting to watch in the sense that even though the ANC in the last election got in excess of 65 percent, it’s quite clear that the decay and the deterioration of the municipal governance there has resulted in widespread disillusionment. The MAP-16 group could also have a strong showing.

The DA recently had its Free State manifesto launch in Sasolburg. Does that mean you see your highest chances in that area, Metsimaholo municipality?

Yes . . . like I said, the ANC failed to get 50 percent in the last municipal elections. And in that re-run after the municipal council was dissolved, it fell even further to just more than 40 percent. So, the big challenge now for us is that voters should make wise choices. We plead with voters not to subject themselves and us to a situation where we are not strong enough to form an alternative government.

What are the chances of you going into coalition with the EFF, should you fail to get enough votes?

Our message to the EFF is very simple. We have been disillusioned with the way the EFF acted in the past. We had an informal arrangement with them in both Tshwane and Johannesburg. They said they didn’t want to form part of the DA government, but then behind the scenes the EFF called the shots regarding senior appointments as well as the awarding of contracts. From that . . . we unfortunately concluded the EFF could not be distinguished from the ANC when it comes to financial issues within municipalities in the way public funds are being used and abused. Therefore, we will not be going into coalition agreements with them in this election. Voters must take note of their record, where they had influence. They must very carefully consider if the emotional pleas the EFF brings to them is something that can be trusted.

The DA posters in Phoenix, KZN, caused quite a furore in the country as they were deemed racist. Some people were saying it could be difficult for them to trust you with their votes. While the posters have since been removed, how are people receiving you in the Free State?

We can never claim that we live on an island in the Free State, but I can thankfully say that we have not been confronted by many voters either lambasting us about the unhelpful message that was displayed in Phoenix or contacting us to say they were reconsidering their support here in the Free State. I don’t mean it has been a non-issue . . . but given the poor state of municipalities in the province, I think the voters here have their sights on the elections and have realised that local government elections are all about basic service delivery and how you can use your vote to improve your circumstances.

And what’s your overall view about the whole issue surrounding those posters

I don’t think it’s in our best interests to keep regurgitating issues around those posters. As the DA in the Free State, we are satisfied that the correct decision was taken when the posters were removed. However, we shouldn’t be apologetic as South Africans in saying, in dealing with that very complex situation in KZN, we all should stand with everybody who was part of the solution on the side of law and order. 

There is a view that the DA could lose significant votes following the departure of some black leaders under unceremonious circumstances. How are you dealing with that issue?

We are a party that gathers support around principles and values. One of our values is that we strive to build a party and a South Africa that is non-racial . . . which is one of values in the country’s constitution. I don’t think we should only look at the situation on the basis that some leaders have left the party from a racial point of view. The reality is that some white leaders have also left the party. So, to our supporters in the Free State and South Africa, we are saying look at our manifesto . . . look at our values and principles, look at our record where we govern municipalities. We are proud to say to the Free Staters, if you really want to position your municipality in the best possible way to improve basic services and financial management, then you should look strongly in our direction.  

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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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