Shiceka builds emperor's palace in SA's poorest village

17 April 2011 - 03:04 By STEPHAN HOFSTATTER and MZILIKAZI WA AFRIKA

Sicelo Shiceka, the minister in charge of local government, is building a new house in his home village of Ingquza Hill - in the poorest district of the Eastern Cape, where residents this week protested against the failure to deliver services such as water, electricity and sewerage.

The lack of delivery is not affecting Shiceka. The Sunday Times has established that:

  • Municipal trucks have been laid on to ferry water to the building site for the new house - while no water is delivered to most of the community;
  • A R32-million tarred road is being routed past his house - while thousands of residents in the area don't have even dirt roads to reach their villages; and
  • His house will be among the first to be electrified.

This week, angry residents protested outside the offices of the Ingquza Hill municipality in Flagstaff, demanding mayor William Ngozi's head.

"There are no roads, no taxi ranks, no street lights and no development. We blame the municipality," said protest organiser Sharon Marillier, who sent a grievance letter to Shiceka as the minister in charge of municipal affairs. It's just corruption - corruption and fraud. They are eating our money."

This week, Shiceka became the first minister since 1994 to be probed by parliament's ethics committee, following an exposé in the Sunday Times about how he used taxpayers' money to fund his lavish lifestyle.

The public protector has been asked to investigate his spending R335000 on a trip to Switzerland to visit his girlfriend in prison; R640000 in one year to stay in the One & Only hotel with a handful of staff, including his "father figure/sangoma"; and more than R160000 in eight months flying his extended family around the country.

These revelations come as Shiceka's department appears to be losing control of local government.

Nineteen municipalities have been placed under outside administration because inept or corrupt local councils have been fired.

This week, municipal riots intensified ahead of the local government elections, and police beat and shot dead a protester in Ficksburg in the Free State.

According to recent research by the Development Bank of SA, Shiceka's home village, Ingquza Hill, lies in the poorest district municipality in the poorest province, the Eastern Cape.

Most residents have no running water and sanitation, roads are poor or nonexistent, and housing is in a shambles.

But local authorities have "coincidentally" devoted their energies to making sure Shiceka's family home is well taken care of.

A building contractor on the new road and two community leaders said they had seen council trucks delivering water to his building site.

Municipal official Mkuseli Nomandindi confirmed on Friday that he had authorised the water deliveries. "It's not a problem to supply water there, even for a building site. I was just following instructions," Nomandindi said. His manager, a Mr Boyo, declined to comment.

Not far away, in the same municipal district, an 83-year-old pensioner, Dambazana Nomlala, interviewed this week, has to rely on her grandchildren to walk 1km to fetch water from a sluggish stream. Two years ago, she lost power to her house when "tsotsis" cut the cable. Then a flood, exacerbated by a badly built council road, left gaping, irreparable cracks in her home. Now she squats with relatives. "All municipalities are bad," she said. "They have done nothing for us since 1994 - nothing."

The new R32-million tarred road being built to the Ingquza Hill memorial includes a branch that runs past Shiceka's driveway. A school a stone's throw from the house was the only site in the municipality selected for a big-screen TV for the World Cup, and the immediate neighbourhood is one of the first being electrified.

SA National Roads Agency (Sanral) CEO Nazir Alli confirmed this week that the road was routed past Shiceka's house, but said this was "a coincidence". Sanral is implementing the Ingquza Hill road project, identified as a priority by the local municipality. Alli said: "The project was never discussed with the honourable minister Shiceka. (He) did not play any role in the initiation, planning and implementation of the Ingquza Hill project."

Municipal spokesman Simpiwe Thobela said Shiceka's good fortune in being on the route was "a coincidence", as was the fact that his house was in one of the first areas to be electrified. Shiceka also "had nothing to do with" the municipality's decision to place its only World Cup viewing screen in the school closest to his house. "It's just a coincidence."

He confirmed the council had supported the road's route "for symbolic reasons".

"The road in question creates the necessary access to the heritage site of the 1960 Ingquza Hill massacre of innocent AmaMpondo by the apartheid regime," he said.

But this is contradicted by a traditional leader with jurisdiction over the affected community, who did not want to be named for fear of victimisation.

"We don't have a road connecting my people - the people of Ingquza - to that monument. Instead, Shiceka makes it go past his mother's house."

Thobela said this complaint came as a "big shock", as no one had raised it at public meetings. The traditional leader said Thobela was "lying".

"I have complained several times, but they always say, 'In the next budget, in the next budget.'"

Madodebhunga Faku, another senior local chief and spokesman for the royal family, confirmed Ingquza community members had complained that the road went past Shiceka's house, but did not serve them. He added: "Where some of the people live there is no road at all."

Shiceka's helicopter flips in the days before the Ingquza Hill memorial launch, attended by President Jacob Zuma, also fuelled resentment. "When he landed in his helicopter, people said, 'This is a big larney,'" said Faku. "Even (Swazi King) Mswati doesn't do that. Shiceka is living the high life - like an emperor."

Shiceka's spokesman, Lokile Molefe, referred detailed questions to acting Minister of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Nathi Mthethwa, who said: "These questions are personal and they need his personal attention." Shiceka was off sick, he said. "At some stage, minister Shiceka has to answer those questions himself," Mthethwa added.

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