Just days after the African National Congress (ANC) lost administrative control of the failing Maluti-a-Phofung Local Municipality to a coalition led by MAP16 Civic Movement, the party could see itself governing the municipality again by default.
News24 has been reliably told that at least five failing Free State municipalities, including Maluti-a-Phofung, will soon be added to the list of municipalities under provincial care in the province.
A letter – allegedly from Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana to Free State Premier Sisi Ntombela – apparently revealed that a decision had been taken to place the Tokologo, Matjhabeng, Maluti-a-Phofung, Mafube and Kopanong municipalities under administration. Under section 139 of the Constitution, the provincial government will have to introduce and closely monitor financial recovery plans for these distressed municipalities.
Amid concerns by the newly elected Map16 Civic Movement coalition government that the move was merely a way for the ANC to win back power through the back door, sources in Ntombela's office told News24 the letter was sent before the recent municipal elections.
Ntombela's media liaison officer, Sello Pietersen, told News24 on Thursday morning the finance minister had raised concerns about municipalities in the province.
However, Pietersen refused to confirm whether the Maluti-a-Phofung Local Municipality was among them.
"You may remember that the municipal councils have just been constituted. Some [are] only a day old. In the spirit of cooperative governance, we, as the provincial government, will have to ventilate issues of service delivery with these new administrations and, as such, we are not in the position to comment on whether Maluti-a-Phofung Local Municipality will or will not be placed under administration," said Pietersen.
"Until such time as discussions have been concluded with these new administrations, we will not be speaking on the matter. But it is common knowledge that the minister has recently spoken out over municipalities who are failing to do their duties, which includes service delivery, and cautioned that aid be [provided] to them."
He said the discussion with the new administrations, including failing municipalities that were to be placed under administration, will take place next week. Decisions will be made after input is received from those elected to lead these municipalities.
M.J. Sekete, MAP16 Civic Movement's head of communications, told News24 they will "consider all these as a fightback strategy as the ANC lost".
He said before his party had found out that the municipality would be placed under administration, Free State MEC for Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Mxolisi Dukwana had sent a section 12 notice to the municipal manager on 17 November 2021. Sekete said the MEC had wanted to downgrade Maluti-a-Phofung from a category B municipality. He said he came to know of the plan a day after their coalition was elected.
"This move basically takes away the status of having the executive mayor. He (Dukwana) was aware that the ANC will lose, as his delegation to have a coalition (sic) with MAP16 never succeeded.
"The inaugural council meeting was only... on 23 November 2021, and the ANC lost. Today, we wake up to the news that Enoch Godongwana wrote a letter to the Free State premier, [and] intends to put Maluti-a-Phofung under administration. This is a fightback strategy. Nothing else," said Sekete.
The newly elected council speaker Paratlane Motloung said he was not aware that any letter or notice to have the municipality placed under administration had been served.
He, however, confirmed that a section 12 notice had been served on the municipality.
"Yes, they sent the notice addressed to the executive mayor, although it arrived before we assumed office. The letter is dated 17 November 2021, and we were only elected on 23 November 2021. The notice indicates the intention to make changes to the type of municipality – from mayoral executive committee to collective committee," said Motloung.
The provincial Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs and National Treasury had not responded to queries from News24 by the time of publication.
In 2016, the ANC won control of the Maluti-a-Phofung Local Municipality with 67% of the vote, and in 2021 ANC support dropped to 39.2%. This after the party in 2018 expelled 16 councillors who reported corruption. These councillors then formed MAP16 and contested the ANC.