Small business owners block the N2 over PPE contracts

Business owners accuse the Alfred Nzo district municipality of only giving contracts to company’s from other towns

By Nombulelo Damba-Hendrik

1 October 2020

Small business owners closed the N2 between Mount Frere and Kokstad on Wednesday. They continued protesting on Thursday, accusing the Alfred Nzo District Municipality of sideling them from government tenders. Photo: Nombulelo Damba-Hendrik

Small business owners have closed down municipality offices and shops for two days in Mount Ayliff, Eastern Cape over government tenders.

This is not the first time these small business owners have protested. In June they prevented trucks from delivering Covid-19 protective personal equipment (PPE) to schools around the Alfred Nzo district.

The businesses are part of the Alfred Nzo Business Forum. They accuse the district municipality of sidelining them and only awarding tenders to businesses from outside the town.

On Wednesday, protesters forced shops to close and blocked the N2 between Mount Frere and Kokstad with cars and big rocks. Police intervened to reopen the road.

The crowd then went to disrupt municipal offices, including the post office where scores of SASSA beneficiaries were queueing outside to collect their grants. The post office had to close for the day.

On Thursday, the group gathered outside the district municipality offices from 6:30am, preventing staff from entering the building.

Siyabonga Hlanekela, chairman of the Alfred Nzo Business Forum claimed that all of the tenders issued by the municipality this year were not advertised.

“The company that is fumigating this municipality is from Johannesburg. … Where were the local companies when this company was appointed?” he asked.

Hlanekela said they were upset that local businesses that were not considered to supply PPE. “We don’t know why our companies were not hired and what surprises us is that most of the companies that were hired were not even on the municipal database. They were only added recently because they have families and friends working in the municipality,” said Hlanekela.

Forum spokesperson Yedwa Ntonga said they wrote to Alfred Nzo District Municipality Mayor Sixolile Mehlomakhulu previously, requesting to meet but he refused.

Before the protest on Wednesday, Ntonga claimed that they had asked Premier Oscar Mabuyane and MEC of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) Xolile Nqatha to intervene.

He said Mabuyane and Nqatha were meant to meet with them but later postponed it to 15 October. “We do not have a problem with them postponing the meeting but we will wait for them outside the municipality offices until they realise that what we are fighting for, is very important to us,” he said.

Municipal spokesperson Lixolile Petela said attempts to engage protesters were futile. “They have forced shops to close and prevented staff from entering the municipality premises. Their action is delaying service delivery,” he said.

COGTA spokesperson Makhaya Komisa said Alfred Nzo is among six municipalities in the province under investigation by the Special Investigative Unit.

Oscar Mabuyane’s spokesperson denied that the premier had agreed to meet the group. “Even if there was a meeting or a miscommunication, that does not mean the [businesses] have a right to intimidate municipality employees.”

The group were still protesting outside the municipal offices on Thursday afternoon.