Image: Sabeehah Motala

By Valencia Talane

A community in Marikana, Rustenburg, in the North West is learning the hard way the cost of being poor and not politically connected during the Covid-19 lockdown. They are caught up in a political storm that is costing them the most urgent need, food. And a ward councillor in the Rustenburg Municipality is under investigation for corruption, after allegations surfaced that claim his abuse of power in food parcel distribution. John Molubi is accused of giving food only to those loyal to him, in the name of campaigning for the ANC.

Molubi is responsible for Marikana’s Ward 31, and has the blessing of the municipality to coordinate the distribution of parcels within his jurisdiction. This, however, has not been going according to plan, community leader Raserole Mashamaite told Corruption Watch. Instead of conducting a door-to-door assessment of his ward, Molubi has instead been selecting his loyal followers and only giving parcels to them, even going into neighbouring Ward 32, which is an EFF-led ward.

A WhatsApp voice note featuring the voice of an unidentified man, believed to be Molubi, has been circulated around the community. In it, the man is heard addressing “members” and naming Mashamaite among a group of people threatening the smooth delivery of parcels across different areas as they intimidate social workers involved in the process.

“In Ward 31 we have had no problems, because social workers have been distributing food parcels with the support of the Saps,” the man can be heard saying. “The poor social workers are terrified because they’ve been told not to distribute food parcels because you as members of the community do not want them.”

He further questions what politics has to do with the work of distributing food parcels to communities that need them. “There’s no telling when the lockdown will end…those who wish to become councillors may campaign when the lockdown is over…for now, in these desperate times, I urge you to listen to the word of the councillor, as it is the only one that provides direction on all aid that will be coming from government.”

Molubi is also accused of providing fraudulent permits to local spaza shop owners, in return for money and several food items.

Earlier this month Mashamaite wrote a letter under the banner of the People’s Coalition for Covid-19 to the municipality, in which he outlines the allegations against Molubi and calls for urgent action against him. Linda Hlatshwayo, the manager in the office of the speaker, confirmed to Corruption Watch that Molubi is indeed being investigated.

“We rely on councillors and their ward committee members as our foot soldiers on the ground, on getting lists of needy people in their communities. The lists include names, surnames, addresses and ID numbers of recipients,” said Hlatshwayo.

“Due to the rising concerns around food parcels, we have now introduced a form that requires recipients to sign next to their details for accountability reasons.”

Danger for the whistle-blower

For Mashamaite, however, the investigation provides little comfort. He is currently in hiding with his family, after what he says were threats to his safety in the wake of his public complaints against Molubi.

“I took a decision to take my family and leave when I was openly threatened in front of the police by his affiliates.” The officer present at the time of the incident, claimed Mashamaite, has not recorded the event, and when Mashamaite probed with his seniors, he was told the officer was on leave at the time.

Molubi’s influence, he believes, goes deeper than just the ability to select who gets food. Mashamaite further claims the group that sought to open a case of corruption against Molubi was intimidated by some of the police officials. The charges were also altered to fraud. “Remember in the North West there are factions, and the way I understand it, his faction is the one in power now. I believe that, because we’ve been complaining about him to the municipality since 2017, but he was never reprimanded.”

The complaints centre around Molubi’s undue influence on how job and business opportunities are implemented in the community, along with his close affiliates.

“We’ve received several similar complaints across Rustenburg, including some from the community of Boitekong. That councillors move food parcels at night so as not to be seen, and these are councillors from more than one party.”

Molubi’s case, Mashamaite says, stands out because he hasn’t been discreet about his actions. “He blatantly side-lined people and didn’t hide his motives. He infiltrated a ward outside his jurisdiction, Ward 32, and co-opted members of his party to carry out the distribution of parcels.”

Process not followed

There is no process to monitor how the parcels reach deserving communities, he added. “The councillors draw up a list, but this is not followed, as some people on the list were skipped in favour of others who are not on the list,” he said, referring to the ones outside of Molubi’s ward. Hlatshwayo’s office, however, told Corruption Watch that the lists are monitored, with recipients being asked to confirm receipt of their parcels by way of a signature.

Molubi was contacted for comment. He initially indicated that he was unable to speak on the phone as he was driving, but then simply denied the allegations levelled against him before hanging up the phone. Thus Corruption Watch was unable to confirm if the voice note was indeed created by him.

While Hlatshwayo said the municipality relies on various stakeholders for donations of food, the man in the voice note urges community members not to accept food parcels that are not from government, as their quality cannot be confirmed.