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Steve Tshwete Municipal Manager hires armed bodyguards

..as tension between council management and worker further deteriorates

The acting manager of the Steve Tshwete Local Municipality in Mpumalanga, Thokozile Zulu, has beefed up security and hired armed bodyguards, allegedly without following supply chain management processes.

This as tension between the council’s management and workers shows no sign of subsiding.

Staff at the municipality, the seat of which is in Middelburg, claim that the security guards patrol the council buildings and question their every move.

According to a complaint that the SA Municipal Workers’ Union (Samwu) submitted to executive mayor Mhlonishwa Masilela on June 3, the guards who arrived in two vehicles were allegedly foreign nationals.

“Our constituency mandated us to find out their purpose, as we have a contracted private security company and permanent security personnel paid by the council,” said Samwu shop stewards Jacob Magagula and Isaac Sindane.

The shop stewards said:[The mandate] comes after we noticed that the acting municipal manager has more than three gun-carrying security guards who are present whenever we are meeting her. The workers will appreciate a breakdown of the expenditure incurred by the council [for the guards]. However, our mandate is that the municipality must cease to use their services.

Municipal spokesperson Prudence Magutle had not responded to questions from City Press by the time of going to print.

The workers have proven to be a handful for the municipal managers. In September, 500 workers, among them engineers, firefighters, electricians, and park and library employees went on strike for three months. They were protesting against senior officials who they said were linked to contractors and the outsourcing of services. The protesters vandalised council property.

On November 8, former municipal manager Bheki Khenisa fired those who had participated in the wildcat strike and defied a 48-hour ultimatum to return to work.

However, they were reinstated a week later after the provincial government had intervened.

Khenisa resigned in March following a breakdown of relations with the employees.

The unrest was, according to sources, allegedly fuelled and funded by disgruntled local businesspeople. They were dissatisfied because Khenisa had allegedly frozen them out of tender opportunities.

Tension between the workers and the municipality’s management continued. On March 22, a bucket of water was emptied on Zulu while she and her executive were meeting with the workers to discuss job gradings and salary adjustments. This may explain why she beefed up security, but the workers said this was not necessary.

One employee said:They [security guards] are all over the building with live ammunition. Worst of all, the workers and members of the community were not informed about their presence in the building. They harass workers by asking where they are going and who they are. The environment is volatile.

“The acting municipal manager has appointed this security company on top of another company, saying she felt unsafe,” he added.

According to Samwu, the rifle-brandishing security guards were initially deployed in the main offices at the civic centre, but their numbers had been increased to patrol at the fire station and other buildings around Middleburg.

This is not the first time Mpumalanga council executives who felt threatened by workers resorted to spending millions on bodyguards.

In 2014, former Emalahleni municipal manager Theo van Vuuren, who was an administrator at the time, allegedly spent more than R20 million on 20 bodyguards for himself and his executive.

Samwu members protested against former municipal manager George Mthimunye and marched him out of the council offices on February 14 2013.

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