Umgeni Water tender kingpin murdered

A prominent businessman at the centre of allegations of the “capture” of Umgeni Water’s board has been shot dead in what appears to have been a targeted assassination.

On 26 January, Sibonelo Hertzog Shinga, 51, the sole director of IT consultancy Raminet Technologies and MPS Strategic Solutions, was killed while travelling from a family funeral in Durban to the King Shaka International Airport.

According to the police, the former mining executive turned tenderpreneur was driven to the Durban North police station in a bid to get him medical treatment, but died before an ambulance could get to him.

Police said this week they were not aware of a motive for Shinga’s killing, but a friend, who asked not to be named, fears that it was related to his dealings with Umgeni Water.

“Things had become very vicious after the new board was appointed. Two groups were trying to get the minister’s attention about what was going on. Letters were flying from both sides to Pretoria,” the friend said. “Now Sibonelo is dead.”

Shinga’s companies had significant business interests with the government, including a new security contract negotiated with the water reticulation entity’s management. 

A former member of the KwaZulu-Natal tender board, he had a successful career as an executive in telecommunications and mining before going into business for himself. 

Last year, Shinga’s companies, which provide Umgeni Water with IT and community facilitation services, became embroiled in a controversy after employees wrote to the water and sanitation minister, Lindiwe Sisulu, claiming he had “captured” then chief executive officer Thami Hlongwa and senior staff members.

In one letter, sent to Sisulu’s chief of staff, Francois Hugo on 17 December, the staff called on her to ask the Special Investigating Unit to probe contracts awarded to Shinga’s companies and others.

These included a R54-million payment for a three-month social facilitation contract, carried out during the Covid-19 lockdown, and R87.1-million for a proposed eight-month security assessment, the first of four phases of a long-term agreement. Neither MPS nor Raiment had any prior record in the security industry.

The staff also claimed Shinga had paid for a lavish birthday party for Hlongwa in Cape Town last year.

In an earlier letter, employees accused the board of signing off on additional payments to Reshebile Aviation and Security Services, whose R220-million security tender was declared unlawful by the high court in Pietermaritzburg in July. 

Umgeni Water was given 10 months to find a new service provider but has not done so. 

The claims of financial wrongdoing at Umgeni Water, which is responsible for supplying water to about 11-million people in the province, emerged after Sisulu dissolved its board in August as part of a shake-up of water entities. She replaced the board with an interim one headed by former ANC Youth League president Magasela Mzobe.

Several of the old board members approached the high court to challenge their removal but failed.

Hlongwa subsequently resigned, with chief financial officer Lungi Mkhize appointed acting chief executive officer in October.

The provincial police spokesperson, Colonel Thembeka Mbhele, confirmed Shinga’s murder. According to the initial police report, she said a man arrived at the Durban North SAPS station in a blue car, screaming for help and requesting an ambulance at about 3.45pm on 26 January.

“The man alleged that while he was driving on the N2 north his passenger was shot by an unknown person. The police went to investigate and noticed that the man had succumbed to his injury.”

She said Sydenham police station detectives were investigating  murder and attempted murder charges but no arrests had been made.

Two sources at Umgeni Water said Shinga’s offices, near the water entity’s Pietermaritzburg headquarters, had been invaded in January by a group of men demanding a 35% share of his business with Umgeni.

“We don’t know what the outcome was,” said one source, who did not want to be named.

The second source said they had been told that contractors working for Umgeni Water were being pressured by outside groups who wanted a share of their business.

In December, members of the Delangokubona Business Forum wrote to Umgeni Water demanding the reinstatement of Hlongwa and that its members be included in the entity’s infrastructure and other projects to promise radical economic transformation.

A staff member at one of Shinga’s companies said they were in the dark about what was happening. “All that we know is that the matter is under investigation. The funeral is not concluded yet. It has been scheduled for Thursday (4 February). We are waiting to see what is going to happen after that.”

Khanyisani Mazibuko, a director of Reshabile and a friend and business associate of Shinga, said he was shocked by his death. 

“All I know is that he was shot while he was driving to the airport from his brother’s funeral. It’s hard to say what happened. We are just waiting to hear more. We hope the police investigations will shed light on what really happened here,” he said. 

Umgeni Water spokesperson Shami Harichunder confirmed that Raminet and MPS had been doing business with Umgeni. Raminet started providing SAP support services, on which the entity’s business processes were based, in 2017 after the contract was ceded to the company.

He said that MPS had been providing social facilitation services since June last year as part of the process of rolling out Umgeni’s five year, R17-billion infrastructure programme.

Harichunder said the amounts involved were confidential.

He said Umgeni Water was aware of at least three letters, purportedly from staff members, which had contained allegations of corruption and had also been sent to Sisulu.

“It appears that a common characteristic of the letter writers is a failure to support allegations made in these letters with evidence. Some importance or seriousness will be attached to these letters if they were accompanied by facts that will give credence to the allegations made.” 

Harichunder said it was of “great concern” that the serious allegations, although lacking in substance, had the potential to cause harm if accepted at face value.

“The question that needs to be asked is whether this has been done deliberately to endanger the security or lives of some senior members of Umgeni Water staff,” Harichunder said.

He added that Umgeni Water would cooperate with any investigation that Sisulu might appoint. He referred the Mail & Guardian to her office for further comment.

Sisulu’s spokesperson, Steve Motale, said the minister had “no record of any correspondence” from, or about, Shinga.

“The matter is one for the board and the police,” Motale said. “The minister is not involved in the running of Umgeni Water.”

Shinga’s attorney, Lerato Kungoane, undertook to secure comment from the family but had not done so at the time of publication. Several attempts to contact Hlongwa by phone were unsuccessful.

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