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Charges against Ngwathe Independent Community Association (Nica) members dropped after they win their Case (No: B3/15) after four months of unnecessary disruption

Ngwathe Independent Community Association (Nica) members Ngwathe Independent Community Association (Nica) members

On 18 May 2015, NICA, the Ngwathe Independent Community Association in Parys, won the case in which they faced charges of public violence and of convening an illegal gathering in Parys in the Free State in January 2015. 

Some members of NICA have been involved in a process initiated by the Department of Justice to allocate victims' reparations funds to the local municipality for infrastructure development, in the name of victims, but without their consent. In the process, a relationship has been established between the NICA members and Khulumani towards ensuring that all processes become community-driven towards empowering community members, rather than benefiting only persons chosen for patronage. 

The case against NICA arose from an apparent attempt by municipal officials in Ngwathe Municipality to vilify NICA because it had effectively organised for work opportunities on a road project in the town to be shared on a fair, transparent and equitable basis amongst young unemployed work seekers living in Tumahole township in Parys. It appears that the Ngwathe mayor, Ms Joey Mochela, may possibly have been implicated in requesting that the Sasolburg Public Order Police be called in to disrupt the negotiations that were taking place between the community and the Free State Roads and Transport Provincial Department towards ensuring that work opportunities on road reconstruction in the town, could be shared over two phases of the project, rather than having the same group of people benefiting twice. Having won the case, NICA has requested advice on how to pursue a complaint against the officials who took apparently unlawful action against them. 

Find the full story below.


 

Spurious Charges are laid against NICA in Parys

            In January 2015, the 11 members of the Executive Committee of NICA (Ngwathe Independent Community Association) were charged with alleged public violence and with being involved in an illegal gathering. The NICA Executive queried the spurious grounds of the charges which arose from a scheduled meeting they had organised with the Director of Social Facilitation for the Contractors’ Development Programme of the Free State Provincial Roads and Transport Department, Mr Freddy Tlokwetogether with the SEDTRADE Project Manager. SEDTRADE (Pty) Ltd is the company which was awarded a contract to fix the roads in Parys.

A Short Background to the Incidents

            On 20 January 2015, 300 local community members who were hoping to secure work on Phase Two of the SEDTRADE project turned up at the Commando Municipal Building in Parys at 09:00 to meet with the SEDTRADE Project Manager. They had responded to an announcement on the local community radio station. The SEDTRADE Project Manager, however, failed to show up for this meeting. At this point, the NICA Executive Committee was faced with managing the situation in the absence of the SEDTRADE Project Manager. They called on all the hopeful applicants for the 140 work opportunities to put their ID documents into a bag so that names could be drawn in a fair and transparent manner.

            Unexpectedly, the Public Order Police Unit from Sasolburg arrived and forced the members of the NICA Executive Committee into a police van at gunpoint, charging them with holding an illegal gathering. Next the Public Order Police ordered the dispersal of the gathered work seekers.    The NICA Executive Committee members were kept in police custody in disused police cells at the Parys police station without food or water for two days awaiting their appearance on 23 January 2015 in the Magistrate’s Court when the case was remanded to 26 February 2015, and extraordinary bail conditions were applied that banned any meetings of NICA and also denied NICA members access to the premises of the Ngwathe Municipality where they had regular business. At their second appearance in court on 26 February 2015, the Magistrate Ms Pillay referred the docket to the Regional Court in Kroonstad for a decision.

            Eventually the case was dismissed on 18 May 2015 after severely disrupting the lives of all the NICA Committee for at least five months and after the Municipality’s intervention apparently to prevent the equitable sharing of work opportunities in Ngwathe Municipality.

What could have been behind these developments?

            It became public knowledge that the reason municipal officials had apparently called the Sasolburg Public order Police was apparently because the Mayor of Ngwathe Municipality, Ms Joey Mochela, had allegedly promised the work opportunities to her own group of preferred beneficiaries. 

Some worrying conclusions

            These incidents at NgwatheMunicipaity highlight the problems when political office-bearers apparently subvert democratic local processes to ensure their chosen beneficiaries are given access to opportunities and resources. This can be understood as another example of clientilism at local level where those with power provide secure their positions through dispersing opportunities on the basis of patronage. For Khulumani, the attempts by NICA to develop fair and transparent processes within local municipalities are to be celebrated. Sadly these efforts were unlawfully disrupted by officials who were sadly used for a political agenda. 

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