The ugly face of beautiful Mpumalanga
WITH its extraordinary beauty of its lowveld and escarpment, Mpumalanga remains one of South Africa's top tourist destinations. Many Joburgers can confess to enjoying their weekend getaways in the region known as South Africa's "paradise".
Many others have related how standing at the apex of the God's Window rainforest gave them the experience of being in direct contact with their Maker.
But the province attributed with having such breathtaking natural beauty also has its ugly face.
In 1998 the Sunday Times dubbed Mpumalanga "Mamparalanga" in reference to the succession of corruption scandals hitting the province.
Among the scandals was the unlawful awarding of a R10-million tender to the Motheo housing project of a close associate of then minister of housing Sankie Mthembi-Mahanyele.
Another scandal was about how self-styled political analyst Eugene Nyathi managed to hoodwink the Mpumalanga Development Corporation into appointing him as a consultant to restructure the institution. Nyathi paid himself R15000 an hour.
The Mpumalanga government eventually managed to recoup R700000 from the illusive master of deception.
Recently Mpumalanga was in the spotlight with allegations of corruption syndicates having taken over, mainly in local government structures.
These syndicates, it is reported, go to the extent of using hitmen to eliminate anyone who dares expose and or stop their kleptomaniac frenzy.
Police records show that since 1998 at least 14 government officials or politicians have been killed in Mpumalanga.
Officials murdered while linked to investigations into corrupt activities include Johan Ndlovu, chief whip of the Ehlanzeni district municipality, who was killed in January; Sammy Mpatlanyane, director of communication at the provincial department of arts and culture, who was killed in January last year, and Jimmy Mohlala, who was gunned down outside his house in January 2009.
Mohlala had established an investigation into allegations of tender irregularities in the Mbombela local municipality.
In January this year now suspended police chief Bheki Cele sent a team of 12 investigators to Mpumalanga to investigate the ongoing murders in the province.
Earlier this month the Democratic Alliance called on the public protector to probe Mpumalanga tenders and governance. The call came after reports that Mabuza had suspended health department head Johnson Mahlangu for allegedly awarding a tender for medical waste removal to Isibonelo Waste Solutions - a company with close ties to now suspended ANC Youth League leader Juluis Malema.
Malema and Mabuza are known to be political rivals - with the latter supporting President Jacob Zuma's move for a second term.
DA MPL Anthony Benadie also questioned the fact that Mabuza was reportedly unhappy with Mahlangu snubbing his choice of preferred choice of company.
The DA wants the public protector to investigate whether Mabuza's decision was driven by a commitment to dealing with corruption in the awarding of tenders or by political motives.
More so because Mahlangu's suspension came only days after Mabuza's government (through public works MEC Dikeledi Mahlangu) opted not to suspend head of department Kgopane Mohlasedi despite a Standing committee on public accounts and provincial legislature resolution, as well as a recommendation by the auditor-general instructing that disciplinary action was required.
Mohlasedi was found to have wasted more than R350-million on irregular tender awards, including the awarding of scholar transport contracts.
Describing the situation in Mpumalanga, South African Municipality Workers' Union provincial secretary Kgokedi Mphahlele was recently saidqouted as saying: "In Mpumalanga graft is covert and very difficult to root out. The corruption at this level is not about taking money, it's about tenders.
"We find people in power channel tenders where they want them to go. They bring their people into council or influence those around them so it becomes a matter of coercion as well as corruption."
Mphahlele's assertion raises questions about how political clout is used to channel tenders.
But it also raises questions about how the powerful can settle political scores using the resources accessible to them.
Reports about Mabuza suspending an official because he awarded a tender to a political rival elevates the issue of corruption to another level.
A level wherein the whole issue is no longer only about self-enrichment, but also about feathering one's political nest.
By also allowing Mahlangu to ignore the calls made by Scopa and the auditor-general to take action against Mohlasedi, Mabuza is unfortunately driving his province towards reclaiming its "Mamparalanga" monicker.
Indeed, only a probe by the indefatigable public protector can save the people of Mpumalanga from this unenviable situation.