Philippi ward beset by internal politics

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About two-thirds of housing in Ward 33 is informal. Photo by Masixole Feni.

There is a political battle underway in Philippi’s Ward 33. The fight is not between opposing political parties, however, but within the ANC itself, with former ward councillor Monwabisi Mbaliswano in one corner and the present incumbent, Nico Mzalisi, in the other.

As a result, there is a sense of unease and mistrust on the streets, particularly in the poorest area south of the railway line that dissects the ward, which is also one of the poorest in the city with an average household income of only R14,600 per year.

During initial investigations into the state of affairs in Ward 33, numerous allegations of corruption and mismanagement were made by residents but nothing concrete was offered and GroundUp was eventually directed to former councillor Mbaliswano who we were told held all the evidence.

This article is part of GroundUp’s coverage of the 2016 municipal elections. We are doing in-depth profiles of interesting wards. There are over 4,200 wards in South Africa. We can only profile a fraction of these. If you know of a ward that would be interesting to profile, please contact us.

Mbaliswano, who was councillor of the ward from 2006 to 2011, took GroundUp on a tour of the ward, introducing traders who said were unhappy with Mzalisi. One trader accused Mzalisi of borrowing money from him two years ago and never paying it back despite repeated requests. However, the trader did not want to give his name for fear of retaliation, saying his business had been robbed four times and he was shot on one of the occasions. He believed the attacks were in retaliation for requests for return of his money.

Similarly, no-one else wanted to provide their names and no solid evidence was forthcoming relating to various serious allegations. When Mbaliswano was asked why, if the allegations were so serious and evidence existed, he did not lay a complaint with City Speaker Dirk Smit’s office, he said the speaker’s office was within a DA-led administration and it would be unseemly for an ANC member to request a DA administration to investigate an ANC councillor. Instead, he said he had laid complaints with the ANC branch secretary.

ANC branch secretary Mlisela Magadla said: “I am not aware of any serious allegations or complaints against the councillor.”

He said issues had been raised regarding Mzalisi, but they had been “sorted out”.

Mzalisi, however, has requested the Speaker’s office investigate Mbaliswano’s actions during his tenure as councillor. Mzalisi alleged Mbaliswano had used ward allocation funds to obtain two shipping containers which were supposed to be used to house a women’s baking project which was never established. Mzalisi also claims Mbaliswano had used funds to obtain a brick-making machine and sewing machines for job creation projects. “They were bought between 2007 and 2011. Where are they now?” asked Mzalisi.

The Speaker’s office confirmed a complaint had been laid against the former councillor but would not divulge details.


A stench of urine and sewage is present along Oliver Tambo Drive, the main entrance into Ward 33 from Vanguard Drive, which is lined with informal businesses operating from containers and makeshift structures.

Additionally, of the 15 or so shops built on the wide bridge that crosses the rail junction at Philippi station, only five were open when GroundUp visited the area. A trader in one of the few shops in operation, seamstress Mambotho Ndwayi, who repairs clothes on her hand-operated sewing machine and sells cushions and traditional attire, said the other traders had closed shop due to lack of electricity after cables were stolen in July. Ndwayi said there had been no communication as to what was being done to restore electricity and the lack of surrounding trade meant her income had dropped from around R1 000 per month to between R300 and R400 per month.

She said most of the other traders now operated as best they could from home.

Ward 33. Photo by Masixole Feni.
Mambotho Ndwayi. Photo by Masixole Feni.

Uncertain traders

Along Oliver Tambo Drive, which is the ward’s main thoroughfare but part of which also forms the border of Ward 75 to the south, containers and shacks house barber shops, salons, vegetable stores, clothing shops, furniture stores, take-away and cellphone shops, as well as one very questionable scrap metal dealer.

But there appears to be dissatisfaction and frustration behind the signs and facades, and an ever-present threat that City Law Enforcement could be called in to remove any one of the informal structures which serve as business premises.

Two young men who used to be scrap collectors, but established a barbershop and salon in a wood and iron shack on Oliver Tambo Drive, said their business, which they established in a bid to get out of a life of crime, was broken down by Law Enforcement in September. They said Law Enforcement claimed the shop (which is a shack) was illegally situated on the pavement.

“They took everything,” said one of the young men over the house music playing on a hi-fi system.

He said Mzalisi had since told them a new, formal business area was in the process of being established and they may have to move there at some point.

“The leaders are taking from us, not helping us. Don’t trust the leaders, particularly the councillor,” said another business owner.

“There are many problems here, we are crying to have the first leader [Mbaliswano] back.”

Another trader who sold sheep heads said after ten years of trading in the same place, Law Enforcement also came and broke down his stand in September this year. He said officers told him the councillor had sent them there.

He said he then tried to approach the councillor but had no success in speaking to him. So he went to the sub-council which ruled it was “unfair” to break down a stand that had been in operation for ten years and gave him permission to rebuild it.

He said he never found out why” Mzalisi had told Law Enforcement to demolish his stand.

Two other business owners GroundUp spoke to said the councillor did nothing for traders and the drains were continually blocked, causing the area to smell, which drove customers away.

However, Mzalisi pointed out that it was Mbaliswano who allowed the business premises to be illegally built on Oliver Tambo Drive’s road reserve, with the containers placed over manhole covers, blocking the municipality’s access to the sewerage and drainage system, and now the problems were being laid at his door.

Additionally, Mzalisi said he called Law Enforcement to break down shacks along Oliver Tambo Drive that were abandoned or used by criminals. “I will continue doing that,” he said unapologetically.

Ward 33. Photo by Masixole Feni.
Only five of the approximately 15 trading booths on the Philippi railway station overpass were open following theft of electricity cables six months ago. Photo by Masixole Feni.

Business battle

Secretary of the Samora Machel Business Forum, Lufefe Mdunyelwa, said business owners along Oliver Tambo drive decided to form a business structure in 2012 and took their ideas to the councillor, Mzalisi, who became involved in the business forum.

Mdunyelwa claimed Mzalisi then wanted to use the business forum’s NPO number in order to access a R100,000 grant being offered by Discovery Health for business development.

“The organisation Mzalisi was applying for did not have an NPO number so he wanted to use ours. We didn’t hand over our NPO number. He stopped working with us. Now he wants to close our organisation.”

But when asked about this allegation, Mzalisi said Discovery had asked him to identify a registered organisation to which they could donate R100,000.

“I found a health organisation. I told them there’s an opportunity to receive R100,000. Then I called this lady [at Discovery] and introduced them. She told them the requirements and they then dealt directly.”

Mzalisi said what happened was that instead of getting cash, the organisation received office assets to value of R100,000 which the organisation then sold in order to obtain hard cash. However, once he had introduced the two parties initially, he was no longer involved.

As for the business forum, he said he initiated it after being elected councillor in 2011 because “the previous councillor [Mbaliswano] used to rip them off” by charging rent for container premises Mbaliswano had organised. “I actually stopped them from paying rent.”

“I’m not even a signatory on their account. I’m still waiting for a financial report from them. I wish you could find out if there is even an account for the forum. I have no access to those funds. There is no accountability.”

Ward 33. Photo by Steve Kretzmann.
Traders along Oliver Tambo Drive were unanimous in their dissatisfaction with conditions in the ward. Photo by Steve Kretzmann.

Housing and socio-economics

With over 14,500 people per square kilometre in a ward of three square kilometres, conditions are crowded and over two-thirds of all homes are shacks (65%) or backyard dwellings (just under 2%).

The ward is also poverty stricken. The 2011 census data showed that the average household income is only R14,600 per year, with 3,139 (21%) of the 15,188 households in the ward listing their annual income as R0. Only 43% of Ward 33’s population are employed.

Yet, 12 households in the ward listed their annual income as over R2.5m and 19 as between R1.2m and R2.5m, indicating small pockets of wealth within a sea of often desperate poverty.

Proper housing is sorely needed in Ward 33. Mzalisi said even the formal houses which were built around the year 2000 are essentially single rooms built of inferior materials and “are bad, especially during winter” as they have no insulation. Mzalisi said these units were supposed to have been temporary but remain 15 years later.

Although state-subsidised housing is desperately required in the ward, Mzalisi said the City has stated there is no land available and he has been engaging with the human settlements directorates to try obtain land but he claims the City will not reveal what land is available as they believe people will occupy land if it is made known it is earmarked for future development.

Ward 33. Photo by Steve Kretzmann.
Housing and socio-economic conditions in Ward 33 are dire. Photo by Steve Kretzmann.


Apart from housing, low income and high unemployment, the major issues in the ward, according to Mzalisi, are the sewerage system and solid waste removal.

In parts of the ward, the smell of sewage is palpable, with drains continually blocked. Mzalisi said this creates an unhealthy environment and is due to the capacity of the piping — which he says has a diameter of 150mm — being unable to handle the volume of sewerage created by the population.

He said he has been engaging with the City of Cape Town to upsize the sewerage system piping to 300mm.

According to Mayco Member for Utility Services, Ernest Sonnenberg, the sewerage pipes along Lillian Ngoyi Drive are being upgraded. The upgrade commenced on 25 November 2015 and is due for completion by 22 January 2016 at a cost of just over R1 million. As for Mzalisi’s engagement on this matter, Sonnenberg stated it involved a request to meet with the City water and sanitation department on 21 August 2015. “At this meeting he was informed that plans to rehabilitate the sewer pipeline along Lillian Ngoyi Drive, Samora Machel in 2014/2015 had been deferred to the current financial year (2015/2016) due to financial constraints.”

Cleaning confusion

The removal of solid waste in the area was another major issue identified by Mzalisi, who said there was no company contracted by the City to clean streets in the informal areas of the ward, which comprised most of the area. Mzalisi said cleaning only occurred when he called the City and informed which streets were in most need of waste removal. He claimed no contractor had operated in the informal areas for over four years.

But the City, after exhaustive efforts by GroundUp to obtain information, stated that 77 people from the ward are employed by contractor LLK Consulting to conduct door-to-door weekly refuse removal in the informal areas, as well as hand out garbage bags to households.

Additionally, sources on the ground confirmed that a cleaning contract was granted to LLK consulting in July last year but protests, which sources believe were fomented by people whom Mzalisi had promised cleaners’ jobs, halted cleaning from mid-August until September.

Negotiations by City officials resulted in the matter being resolved and cleaning has since been conducted according to schedule.


Asked about his achievements while in office, Mzalisi listed gettting the commitment from the City to upgrade the sewerage system, yet arguably this was on the cards anyway and would have gone ahead with or without his involvement.

In regards to housing, he said he has spoken to the National Deputy Minster of Human Settlements, Zou Kota-Fredericks, and managed to negotiate a commitment at the end of 2014 that residents of Kosovo informal settlement would be included in phase two of the Cape Gateway housing project. This has not been confirmed by GroundUp.

Mzalisi said he undertook “a roadshow” at the beginning of his term to find out what people in ward wanted as he wanted to focus on “sustainable human development”.

He said the result was the development of training programmes which included driver’s licenses training, entrepreneurship and basic computer skills.

He said as a result of the driver’s license programme, about 28 people have obtained their licenses, having progressed from learners license to driver’s license with all expenses paid.

He claimed the computer training programme has led to 56 people obtaining their certificates, with “some of them” having got a job as a result. He said approximately 50 people had participated in the entrepreneurship course (which also included computer training).

He said he also established a heritage programme which takes young and elderly residents on tours to places such as Robben Island, Table Mountain and the V&A Waterfront and they spend a night accommodated at the Waterfront. He said about 80 people had participated so far.

Additionally, he said he’s been instrumental in building or upgrading six parks for children and placing eight speed humps along routes in the ward to prevent traffic accidents.

He said he pressured the City to replace street signs to ensure emergency vehicles can find their way around the ward.

Ward 33. Photo by Steve Kretzmann.
Ward 33 councillor Nico Mzalisi. Photo by Steve Kretzmann.

Ward allocation budget expenditure

Upgrading of two parks with the supply of fencing, brick edging, trees and playpark equipment accounts for R400,000 of the R700,000 annual ward allocation budget, with the remaining R300,000 being spent on “Facility Hardening” at the Ruth First Community Hall.

According to the subcouncil reports, the work is on track with 85% of the 2015/2016 budget spent.


Nico Mzalisi was nominated as ward candidate by the ANC for the 2011 Local Government Elections and gained his seat with 93% of the 9,529 residents who cast their vote putting a cross next to his name.

The closest opposition to the ANC in the 2011 election was the UDM, with 1.5% of votes.

Ward 33 is solidly ANC, having grown from 58.1% in the 2002 Local Government Elections to a 70.86% majority in the 2006 Local Government Elections.

It is almost certain the ANC will retain the seat at this year’s elections, the question being who the ANC will select as the candidate for the ward, a position former councillor Monwabisi Mbaliswano seems to be contesting.

Sources for this story included:

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