The Matjhabeng local municipality is part of Lejweleputswa district municipality. It is one of five municipalities in the district. The name is a Sesotho word meaning “where nations meet”. It is derived from the migrant labour system where locals and foreigners from neighbouring countries met to work in the gold mines.
In 2018, Ratings Afrika published its Municipal Financial Sustainability Index, revealing the best and worst municipalities in South Africa. The Free State and North West were rated the weakest provinces in South Africa. Matjhabeng (Welkom) was rated the worst municipality in the Free State.
In 2011, the municipality came into the news as one of the worst examples of the widespread corruption under the ruling African National Congress (ANC). In about four years, about R2 billion went missing. The municipality spent R1.6 billion of its R1.7 billion budget on “unaccounted expenditure” and property, according to the auditor-general’s report.
In 2021, five officials of the municipality were arrested by the Hawks. This was after over R1 million of municipal funds was allegedly misspent. One of the accused was involved in appointing the remaining accused as municipal officials.
The municipality has high unemployment rates which was increased by the COVID-19 pandemic. As of 2021, about 150,000 adults are unemployed. Some 10 gold mines closed their shafts, and suppliers of these mines closed shop. Crime rates also increased. The reported crimes include theft and vandalism of municipal property and infrastructure, and vandalism of cemeteries.
Municipal spokesperson Kgojane Matutle said: “These illegal activities have been going on unabated for a while now. They have been stealing our valuables since early last year. Early last year, a group of heavily armed men stormed our municipal building in Meloding.”
The Matjhabeng municipality council consists of 72 members elected by mixed-member proportional representation. Of the 72 members, 36 councillors are elected by first-past-the-post voting in 36 wards. The remaining 36 are chosen from party lists. During the 2016 elections, the ANC won a majority of forty-six seats in the council.
In a by-election held in 2017, a ward previously held by a Democratic Alliance (DA) councillor was won by the candidate from the United Front of Civics. The DA won the ward back in another by-election held in 2020. The 2016 council composition was thus restored.
According to Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) data, 1 412 862 people out of a population of approximately 2,9 million registered to vote. All 19 municipalities have thus far been governed by the ruling party, the ANC. The ANC has the majority with 46 seats. The DA and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) have 16 and 6 seats, respectively. The United Front of Civics, Cope and the FF+ had one seat each. One independent candidate was also represented.
Featured image via Wikimedia Commons