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An insider has blown the lid on wide-scale corruption syndicates in Nelson Mandela Bay metro.

In a recent paper, Crispian Olver who was part of an intervention team dispatched to save the ailing Eastern Cape city, sets out the detail of how corruption syndicates operated and of how they held the city government hostage. Here are the highlights of an investigation he has written for the Public Affairs Research Institute.

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The story starts with a death.

“At 9pm on Saturday August 2014, councillor Buyisile Mkavu was sitting in his white Range Rover in Kwanobuhle. As Mkavu reversed his car to leave, a man approached the back of the Range Rover. The man stepped deftly around the vehicle, shot Mkavu a number of times through the open passenger window, and then sauntered down the road with the gun in his hand. Mkavu died on the scene.”

Mkavu, although a controversial figure, had been trying to uproot corruption in the housing department.

"The political murder cast a pall over the whole of Port Elizabeth, and even when I arrived in the city early the following year, there was a noticeable climate of fear. I had been sent to Nelson Mandela Bay on an assignment to help clean up corruption in the administration, which had become entrenched to such an extent that the ruling ANC was facing a massive loss of electoral support."

Something rotten in Missionvale

“Many (staff) had retreated from open contestation with the corrupt forces that operated in the city, but behind closed doors they would open up and talk about these untouchable, larger than life characters that operated across the municipality.”

A housing development in Missionvale lay at the heart of the festering sore of corruption; housing and infrastructure development provided the best access to contracts for local mafia.

“The construction company which had been appointed from a roster of housing contractors did not have experience delivering a project of this scale. The person in charge of appointing the contractor had been involved in an intimate relationship with the person who ran the company … the contractor had been sent on site with undue haste, and had gone ahead and built houses without the internal reticulation being done. From an engineering point of view this was unheard of. A few months after they were built, they were already cracking and falling apart.”

An anatomy of a corruption syndicate

“Over time, the network of corrupt officials and contractors evolved into a well organised syndicate. The modus operandi was to restrict the allocation of tenders for contracts to a limited pool of handpicked contractors. The contractors would use sub-standard materials and cut corners to deliver houses at a massively reduced cost, and share the profits with the officials appointing them,” writes Olver. “They also started claiming for houses which had not been built.”

Money, corruption and kickbacks

“When it finally got round to it, the municipality’s own investigation into this mess revealed that the management, administration and implementation of the whole human settlements programme, including associated infrastructure, was riven by fraudulent activities involving large sums of money, corruption and kickbacks.”

The ANC is stuck on the horns of a dilemma

“The syndicate clearly posed a serious dilemma to the then ANC leadership in the metro. Its operation was sophisticated and its members, able to act with impunity, were ruthless in their enforcement, demanding and retaining intense loyalty. At the same time, a wide variety of ANC leaders past and present had at some point been handed projects by the department, and so were at crucial instances unable to act.”

The ANC lost the Nelson Mandela Bay metro to a coalition led by the Democratic Alliance in the local government elections in August.