Community members scared of speaking out shun parliamentary committee on fact-finding mission
Expectations that the Vhembe District municipal chamber in Thohoyandou would be packed to the brim with disgruntled VBS clients looking for answers when a parliamentary committee visited the district on Friday came to naught.
People who lost thousands of rands in life savings when the bank collapsed last year were allegedly fearful that speaking out against the looters in public could lead to them being killed.
Community members scared of speaking out shun parliamentary committee on fact-finding mission.
The portfolio committee on cooperative governance and traditional affairs paid a two-day visit to Limpopo to seek answers regarding decisions by municipalities to invest more than R2 billion of public funds in the VBS Mutual Bank.
The committee, led by chair Faith Muthambi, grilled municipal officials in Giyani and Thohoyandou on Thursday.
On Friday, it listened to submissions from various community stakeholders, including religious leaders and the Association of Traditional Healers.
It was initially expected that scores of people would grace the occasion following the widespread misery the collapse of the bank caused for ordinary community members who invested their life savings in the bank.
But Maine Matamba Mamuremi, a representative from the Association of Traditional Healers, said Vhembe residents were now fearful and no longer felt safe, following the killing of people who had spoken out against VBS corruption.
“As you can see from the low attendance in this chamber, it is because people are afraid of being killed. That is the reason they did not come here,” he said.
People have become reluctant to speak out against VBS corruption following the killing of two SA Municipal Workers Union leaders, Ronald Mani and Tshililo Timson Musetsho, who were gunned down in separate incidents earlier this year.
Mani and Musetsho received deaths threats for calling on law enforcement agencies to act against those implicated in VBS corruption. They were both employees at the municipality.
As you can see from the low attendance in this chamber, it is because people are afraid of being killed. That is the reason they did not come here
The committee’s visit comes during the month that marks a year since the VBS Mutual Bank report titled The Great Bank Heist was released by Advocate Terry Motau, SC.
Using “a detailed analysis of cash flows”, his report gave a “far clearer and more accurate picture of the extent of the looting”.
The Auditor-General of South Africa consolidated general report on the local government audit outcomes financial year 2017/18 further revealed that 16 municipalities invested money with VBS Mutual Bank in the 2016/17 and 2017/18 financial years.
Last week the committee summoned the Makhado, Greater Giyani, Collins Chabane, Vhembe District and Mopani, five of eight Limpopo municipalities which accounted for over 70% of losses suffered as a result of the VBS collapse.
The committee heard shocking accounts of golden handshakes to high-ranking officials who resigned after the VBS scandal broke.
Instead of being dealt with, they walked away with their full pensions and bonuses, which in one case amounted to over R900 000 for a municipal manager.
It also heard how municipal officials took documents authorising a VBS deposit of R120 million to be signed by an official who was bedridden in hospital. It also heard that the loss of funds invested in VBS led to a failure to implement service delivery and other projects, including electrification of villages and water supply.
Mamuremi said they wanted action taken against those implicated in the looting and that demands of ordinary people had to be met.
Dean Tshenuwani Farisani, representing religious leaders, said the families of Mani and Musetsho were still afraid to take part in meetings organised by the various stakeholders because of how their loved ones were killed.
Farisani lambasted some well-known culprits who took part in the looting frenzy and were using this money from the poor to maintain their lavish lifestyles.
He said VBS money was used to build mansions for these people, some of whom are very well known.
“Some culprits brag about how they wear R7 000 underwear. Underwear bought with stolen money.
“Can a person who really worked so hard for their money just waste it by buying R7 000 underwear?” he asked.
“If ever I die today fighting for this truth, keep your cheap ‘rest in peace’. Just go to your choppers [helicopters] and eat T-bone steaks,” Farisani said.
Chief whip and member of the committee Dikeledi Direko said that what was happening in Vhembe was truly sad and the killing of people was something that could not be disregarded.
Culprits could run and hide, but they would eventually be found, she said.
– Mukurukuru Media