Knysna Municipal Manager, Dr Sitembele Vatala placed on precautionary suspension

Following a special council meeting Thursday 13 February, Knysna Municipal Manager, Dr Sitembele Vatala, was placed on precautionary suspension as a result of allegations levelled against him. The section of the meeting in which this matter was discussed was closed to the public. Deputy Executive Mayor Cllr Aubrey Tsengwa said that all Councillors voted in favour of this suspension. “Council will appoint an independent investigator within 7 days to probe the allegations and the municipal manager will be on suspension for the duration of the investigation. The investigator must submit its findings to the municipal council within 30 days.”

Tsengwa said the investigator will take an in-depth look into the allegations brought against Dr Vatala. “The Municipal Manager’s precautionary suspension was for the protection of all parties and to ensure an unbiased investigation without any influence from the parties involved.”

Tsengwa concluded by saying that it is important to note that Dr Vatala has not been charged with any misconduct at this point in time. “Dr Michelle Gratz, former municipal manager of Mossel Bay Municipality has been appointed as the acting municipal manager in the interim.”

“I want to assure the public that the investigation will not influence service delivery and the day to day running of the municipality. The Knysna Council has acted with the well-being of the Municipality as our first and foremost priority. We have confidence in the ability of  Dr Gratz to steer the administration during this time.”

ALL EYES ON KNYSNA MUNICIPALITY

Picture – Knysna’s current Municipal Manager Dr Vatala – are his days numbered?

It seems that Knysna Municipality is holding its collective breath at the moment as all wait to see if  Dr Sitembele Wiseman Vatala becomes the third Municipal Manager in succession to leave the local authority under a cloud.
This after Knysna Municipality landed in such a cash-strapped position that there is a question as to whether February’s salary bill can be met.
At the Council Meeting on 30 January, the blame for this situation was put squarely on Vatala’s shoulders by a majority of councillors, who eventually voted for a motion that he be given seven days to give written reasons why he should not be suspended for, in basic terms, mismanagement of the Municipality’s finances. This motion, proposed by DA’s Peter Myers, was carried eleven votes to nine.
It seems that this huge cash-flow problem is a result of the expenditure of approximately R66 million over budget, and under-performance in revenue collection of R16 million. Furthermore, approximately R26 million of the Municipality’s own funds has been used for advanced funding of projects set to be paid for through National and Provincial Government grants.
This left the Municipality as at 31 December 2019, with a cash deficit of almost R10 million.
“How could this happen?” asked Councillor Peter Myers, “How did we get into this situation, from a perfect budget passed midway through last year, to the dire situation we are in now?”
He believes that the Municipal Manager had ignored the warning signs.
“In terms of the Municipal Systems Act, the Accounting Officer – that is the Municipal Manager – is ultimately responsible for the management of the Municipality’s income and expenditure,” he said.
Whilst there were no accusations of theft or corruption made at the lengthy and rather feisty council meeting, it was more than evident that the knives were out and it was Vatala’s head that was on the block.
The Chief Financial Officer Mbulelo Memani was also at the meeting, and presented, on behalf of the Municipal Manager, a Draft Cash Management Plan, explaining how they had got into trouble and including several remedial actions to try and right the severely listing ship. They were:-
• To immediately arrange an overdraft facility with the bank. This is necessary for only short-term bridging finance, and may not exceed the capital projects earmarked to be financed from borrowing.
• The capital projects earmarked to be financed from loans must all be reconsidered and only those projects which are absolutely essential must continue. The other projects should be delayed, or cancelled.
• The projects which they would continue must then also be financed from loans.
• The calculated capital needed for these projects must be immediately borrowed, and not involve waiting until the projects are completed.
• All future capital projects to be financed from loans, until the municipality has recovered from the cash flow deficit and has rebuilt a healthy Capital Replacement Reserve.
• A moratorium should be placed on the filling of all budgeted vacancies, except where it is again absolutely critical for essential service delivery. This must prevail until a proper work-study is conducted, in order to ensure that the organogram is aligned to the Integrated Development Plan (IDP) which is efficient, affordable and sustainable.
However, Councillor Myers said he did not want Vatala steering the ship any longer, reasoning that the person who had allowed the Municipality to get into such a precarious financial position should surely not be the one in charge of the recovery plan.
Vatala was particularly aggrieved by the suggestion that he was to blame, calling the proposal for his suspension an illegal move. But not even his vocal threat to personally sue any councillor who did not vote in his favour was enough to deter the majority.
Since the motion was passed, the Municipal Manager has been issued with a written notification, the deadline for his reply being Monday 10 February. What response, if any, he has given will only come to light at the Special Council Meeting set for Thursday 13 February.

ALL GO FOR SEDGEFIELD SLOW FEST 2020

There is a definite excited buzz about the 2020 Sedgefield Slow Festival going on behind the scenes, with the organising committee pulling out all the stops for a bigger and better fest yet!

Many will have realised that the Festival weekend (27 – 29 March) is not taking place over Easter this year. This was always part of the long-term plan to move the Slow Festival to a different time in the school holidays once it had gathered momentum, so that visitors would be encouraged to come to Sedgefield on what would otherwise not be a busy weekend. The change also prevents Slow Festival events overlapping with parts of the Christian Easter calendar that many hold dear.

The great news for this year is that the ‘hub’ of the Slow Fest is back on the Village Green – which is central and easily accessible to the whole community. With stall-holders already eagerly signing up, plus many events – old favourites and new, it is hoped that the Green (or should that be Orange?) will be an overflowing hive of family activity, relaxation, and generally having a good old Sedgefield time.

Says the Festival’s Social Media whip-cracker Jan Gibson “Starting with the opening night party on 27th, a full Programme on the 28th then the parade, prize-giving and after-party on 29th it really is going to be non-stop fun!”

As last year, the Sedgefield Lions are co-ordinating the festival, with Wendy Ruscoe captaining the ship, and Natalie Etridge in charge of events, Shelley van Eeden handling the stalls on the green and Vonnie Veldtman dealing with the famous Slow Festival Parade.

Talking of ships – The EDGE is once again organising the infamous ‘Anything That Floats’ Competition, and calling for the daring boat-builders, cunning craft constructors and slippery sub-sinkers to sign up for another hilarious day of flying, floating and falling apart chaos.
“This year spectators will be able to take part in voting for their favourite boats to win the overall prize,” says organiser Bomber Webb.

As is tradition, local businesses are encouraged to start collecting their orange paraphernalia so that they can ‘Get Their Orange On’ in the days leading up to the Slow Festival. This goes a long way to promote the festival to folks driving through, and builds excitement and community spirit for the locals. More details of the ‘Get Your Orange On’ competition in future editions.

Anyone wanting to keep abreast of the Slow Festival should follow them on Facebook. Contact details for the committee members may be found on the website:-
slowfestival.co.za

CONGRATULATIONS TO DEMI & TIM

Congratulations to our ‘home-girl’ Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters (former Miss Universe, Miss South Africa and Head Girl of Sedgefield Primary) on her marriage to American sporting legend Tim Tebow.
The internationally-loved couple tied the knot in a stunning sunset ceremony at the La Paris Estate in Franschhoek, near Cape Town on Monday 20 January. The ceremony was attended by 260 guests.
Close friends of Demi’s family Mario and Lizette Ferreira and their children Juan and Kayla were on the guest list, and were delighted to join Demi’s mom Anne-Marie and stepdad Johan at the grand occasion. All were blown away by what Mario could only describe as a fairytale wedding.
“Everything,” he enthused, “Everything was just WOW!”
“The attention to detail was just amazing, and every single thing really expressed the couple’s strong Christian faith.”

He described how the venue was adorned with masses of mostly white flowers – Orchids, Anthuriums and Roses – with a classy black aisle on which the couple walked between the guests. A full orchestra, The Soweto Choir, and the wedding service being officiated by Tim’s close friend Louie Giglio just made the day even more special.

“And when Matthew Mole performed ‘Pennsylvania’ – a song he had written especially for the couple’s first dance, it was the magical cherry on the top,” said Mario
Demi-Leigh looked more resplendent than ever in her custom gown by Davids Bridal and Tim wore a tuxedo by Antar Levar.
In an interview with People Magazine before the wedding, Tim explained that they had written their own vows. “I want the vows to be perfect. I’m leaving in the traditional things like ’till death do us part,’ but I’m also adding some of my own things to it.”
Demi shared how the wedding blended South African and American wedding traditions “We’re both very traditional,” she said “We wanted to look back at the wedding and see that it was intimate, elegant, and traditional. We definitely wanted it to be something that we could look back on and know that nothing was dated. We want to remember this day for the rest of our lives.”
Tim had an equally romantic outlook “I’ve been looking forward to three things,” he said to PEOPLE. “The first moment I see her in her wedding dress, the first kiss, and the first dance together as man and wife. It’s such a special night.”
He continued, “I’ve been waiting my entire life for someone special, who I can spend the rest of my life with. I was waiting for the right person to come along. And now I’m marrying Demi. I can’t wait to see what our future holds. All of my dreams have come true. It was 100 percent worth the wait.”
On behalf of the Sedgefield community, we send hearty congratulations and wish God’s richest blessing on this very special couple.

GROENVLEI TO BRUINVLEI

CAPE NATURE CALLS FOR PARTNERSHIPS TO ASSIST IN RESTORING THIS UNIQUE BODY OF WATER

(PICTURE: Aerial photo of Groenvlei showing current poor water clarity taken on 9 January 2020. Extremely worrying when compared to the
photo on page 3, taken a year previously)

Whilst locals have known for some time that ‘Groenvlei’ (known to some as ‘Lake Pleasant’) has been suffering over the last year or so due to the ever-increasing population of the invasive Carp, there are some who feel that this once-pristine water system has now reached a point of no return.
The visual evidence that they may be right is substantial. The colour and clarity of the spring-fed fresh-water lake have changed so drastically that it could easily be mistaken for a muddy mine-dump dam, a far cry from the sparkling waters most locals know and love.
Cape Nature, the custodians of Groenvlei and the Goukamma Nature Reserve that surrounds it, have announced that the lake is indeed in a state of serious decline, and are asking for assistance in resuscitating it back to its former glory.
In a press release issued this week, they emphasised the importance of Groenvlei, saying it contains genetically unique populations of two indigenous small fish species, the Estuarine round herring and the Cape silverside. (The press release in full is on page 3)
Records show that the original release of Carp into Groenvlei was done as recently as the late 1990s. According to Rhett Heisman, manager of the Goukamma Reserve at the time, a fisherman had been overheard boasting that he had thrown in ‘a few carp’ because they were his preferred catch. Unfortunately, the perpetrator could not be arrested as his own testimony was the only evidence against him.
Surely a lesson that nature should not be tampered with.

VOLUNTEERS HOODWINKED BY SCAM ARTIST

(Please note – this is NOT a picture of the scam artist.)

On Thursday 12 December, two female Hospice volunteers (names withheld at their request) were ‘charmed’ out of thousands of rands worth of personal possessions – namely gold jewelry and Kruger Rands – by a young Indian man who seemingly bamboozled them with sweet talk and, no doubt, some clever ‘sleight of hand’.
It was during the load-shedding when the con artist, who they describe as a slick young man, probably aged about 30, walked into the Sedgefield Hospice Charity Shop. They were short-staffed at the time, so there weren’t so many eyes to keep a watch on the front shop. But even with that, they certainly had no suspicions that he was up to any misdeeds. He was chatty, and charismatic, saying how at this time of the year he and his colleagues did a lot for charities in the form of donations, especially of household linen.
“He actually handed us two pillows and some rolls of toilet paper as a donation for the shop,” one of the ladies later told us.
As the man conversed with the two women, he looked around the shop, choosing things to buy and bringing them to the counter. He suggested that a tally be kept and asked the ladies to let him know when he reached R500, claiming his friend was bringing money from Knysna as they had been unable to draw in Sedgefield because of the load-shedding.
Indeed, a while later he did get some money – they presumed from his friend – and paid the ladies, though he didn’t make any effort to take his purchases from the counter.
Instead, the man started a different line of conversation with them. “He began telling us how valuable certain coins were and how much he could give us for them,” the lady recalls, “ And then he asked about gold items which we might have to sell.”
The man then picked up a cufflink from the counter. He said it might be gold and asked if he could ‘test it’. When they agreed he produced a container of liquid and dropped the cufflink in. Whilst they all watched to see what would happen, he continued his smooth-talking, eventually convincing one of the ladies to take off her gold ring so he could put it into the container to compare. He explained that it would have to stay there for a while. Of course, she did what the nice man asked.
“In the meantime,” her friend told us, “He began looking at the coins in our float and said that he could give us a lot of money for some of them.” There followed a discussion about how valuable certain coins were. “I mentioned I had a Kruger Rand set which I wanted to sell and he offered me much more than I thought I could get,” the lady said, “In my stupidity, I got my husband to bring it to the shop. My friend also got some of her coins as well as some gold bangles.”
By this time, the man had them hanging on his every word, and firmly entwined in his circle of trust.
But then, the volunteer told us, the shop got busier, and they couldn’t give him their full attention. As he stood, supposedly waiting for them, he kept phoning his partner on his cell, asking him to bring some more cash.
“At one stage he left the shop to get the money from his partner,” the lady said.
But as all the goods he had bought – and indeed paid for – were on the counter, along with the box of Kruger Rands and the container of ‘gold test’ liquid, there was no need for them to feel suspicious about their new friend.
When he still hadn’t returned some time later they started feeling a little uneasy. They went to the counter and gingerly opened the box which had contained the Kruger Rand coins – they were gone.
Then they quickly checked the container with the liquid in. All the gold items that he had put in there to test had also disappeared – including the ring, gold bangles and gold coins.
“He never came back,” she told us, “He even left the items he had bought and paid for.”
On discussing the scam artist with the shopkeepers of adjacent shops, they heard that he had been there as well, but no-one else had suffered any loss.
The ladies have both since been to the local SAPS station and opened a case.
“I actually feel embarrassed to report this as we were two gullible old ladies that were conned by this very slick, young guy,” one of them told us, “But perhaps the public can be warned about this person and his modus operandi.”

SANPARKS WILDERNESS SCOOPS AWARDS

The Wilderness section of the Garden Route National Park (GRNP) scooped the most coveted award of Park of the Year at the South African National Parks Awards (Kudu Awards) in Gallagher Estate, Johannesburg. The Park’s marine ranger Jonathan Britton also won the Shield Award, for continued acts of placing himself in harm’s way to save others. Efforts include the Garden Route fires, representing SANParks in various rescue operations with stakeholders including the Kingfisher trail, Brown-hooded incidents, 2018 Festive season criminal incidents.
 
Speaking at the Awards, Dr Sandra Taljaard, Park Manager of the Wilderness section of the GRNP said “We are excited to receive the Park of the Year Award. To us it means our national peers appreciate and recognize that despite the many challenges faced by the Park during the 2018/2019 Financial year, the team found innovative ways to achieve set targets for the year.”
 
The Award for Park of the year is won by a Park that has come up with the most innovative measures in meeting the financial and human resource constraints.
 
Speaking about his achievement, Britton said he cannot claim this award only for himself and thus attributes his award to the rest of the ranger teams in Wilderness. Speaking about Britton, Park Manager for Wilderness, Sandra Taljaard, says ‘Jonathan is always at the forefront of the team leading and has done so in various rescue operations during the 2018/2019 financial year.’
 
The Wilderness Lakes Ramsar Site covers 1,300 hectares and incorporates the estuarine lakes of Rondevlei, Langvlei and Eilandvlei, and the Serpentine channel as well as a dune system with associated thickets, woodlands, marshes, and reedbeds. Important locally-migrant resident birds, as well as staging and breeding birds, use the site, which supports at least 285 native plant species, 32 fish species (several of which use the site as a nursery area), and a diverse array of marine and estuarine invertebrate fauna.
 
Picture: Jonathan Britton, Marine Ranger for Wilderness with Park Manager, Dr Sandra Taljaard

THE BIGGEST IN AFRICA

NOW IN ITS 5TH YEAR, THE EDEN KITE FESTIVAL HAS GROWN IN LEAPS AND BOUNDS – AND ALL FOR A GREAT CAUSE

A kite festival is a glorious celebration of health and wellness. Families get out into the fresh air together and look up, rather than down at a screen. The whole community comes out because it includes everybody, not excluding any segment or age. And of course, there is the spectacle of the marvelous creations in the sky.

This December will see the 5th Eden Kite Festival taking place. Our country event has grown, in just five years, to the biggest kite festival in Africa. There will be more kiters than ever before and it takes place over three and a half days!

Sadly, the main event is not in Sedgefield as before, due to the unavailability of a suitable venue. We hope to bring it back home next year while keeping the other two venues as well.

So this year it is in George for a day again, at the Sasol garage on the N2 near Kaaiman’s on Saturday 16th December. Then the whole shebang moves to Knysna for 2 days at the Knysna High school fields on Waterfront Drive on Monday and Tuesday 15th and 16th December.

We have a team of three from Finland this year, the first time that country is represented. Several return visitors are coming back again: Peter “Soutie” Hulcoop from England, Gadis Widiyati of Singapore and Alicja Sjalska of Poland. In fact, Alicja has been to many festivals around Asia and Europe and says Eden is her favourite of all. That’s because of our natural beauty and the friendly, neighbourhood feel of the Garden Route people and the festival. She is bringing partner Szymon with her this year and they will be running kite-making workshops with their great kites made of real ripstop nylon. Gadis will also be running kite-making workshops. Hers was particularly popular when she was last here.

Renowned Indian kite-maker Asghar Bhelim, together with his team of three, will exhibit his hand-painted kites and, for the first time we have a representative from Zimbabwe – the effervescent Suraiya Essof from Kites for Peace Zimbabwe. Last, but most certainly not least, are the kiters from around South Africa, some of whom have been at all five editions of Eden Kite Festival.

As always there’s fun for everyone. Apart from the kite-making workshops – which cater for all ages – there is paintball at George and the ever-popular kite battle on all three days, where teams compete with Japanese fighting kites. This year you can enter on the day, so get your two or three of your family or friends together and join in!

If you have a kite bring it along, otherwise make one or buy one at the festival.

Last year’s Kite Festival raised R58 000 for Masithandane’s Children’s Bursary Fund which assists in the education of local children, particularly those of high-school age as there is no high school or government school transport in Sedgefield.

Although the festival itself isn’t in Sedgefield this year, residents will be given the opportunity of a sneak preview! Get down to Myoli Beach on Friday afternoon 13th (2pm – 6pm) and get a free taste of the main events.

Entrance to the festival is R20 for adults and R10 for children. Gates open at 9.30 and close at 16:30 each day.

JACKY WEAVER HONOURED WITH ROTARY’S HIGHEST ACCOLADE

The Rotary Club of Knysna recently presented Masithandane’s Jacky Weaver the Paul Harris Fellowship Award.
This prestigious award is made to those who have served to the highest standard in contributing to their communities, while showing honesty and integrity in all that they do. “It is the belief of this club that Jacky Weaver is one such person, and the award was therefore made to her,” says Club President Julie Staub.

The true honour of this award really hits home when one considers some of the others who have been named Paul Harris Fellows, including U.S. President Jimmy Carter, Russian President Boris Yeltsin, U.S. astronaut James Lovell, UN Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar, and polio vaccine developer Jonas Salk.

Ever-humble, but always ready to quietly step up to the ongoing challenge of uplifting those in need, Jacky is the current Chairman of the Masithandane Board and sits on the Finance Committee. The NPO’s influence stretches far beyond the local townships close to Sedgefield, including Karatara, Fairview and Farleigh, where there is great need because of poverty, unemployment and abuse in all sectors of the population.

Masithandane focuses on many different interventions: Home-based care, vulnerable children and the elderly, life skills, food security and nutrition, transport, health and safety, job creation and skills training, education and literacy, prevention and treatment of illnesses, emergency nursing, support of local learners, healthcare training and Early Childhood Development.

“Jacky continues to work tirelessly to improve the lives of those less fortunate – a true Rotarian in every respect, and the Rotary Club of Knysna thanks her for her continued efforts,” says the Rotary President.

COMMUNITY CALLS FOR ACTION AGAINST CRIME

Smutsville resident Bulelani Mbanya tells the top brass of SAPS Knysna that Smutsville needs help in fighting crime.

At a public meeting held on Monday 25 November at the Smutsville Community Hall, many residents vented their frustrations regarding the continuous problem of crime in their community. Whilst the members of SAPS and Knysna CPF who were present tried their utmost to give answers to all the questions raised, it was soon evident that due to lack of resources, no instant-fix would be forthcoming from SAPS, and a far more trusting relationship between SAPS and local residents would be necessary to have any sort of impact on crime.
The meeting had been called by the community, who presented a list of problems for SAPS to consider. These included SAPS only having one van in Sedgefield, complaints of finding the police station ‘closed’ at night, criminals with open cases against them still being on the street, and the need for SAPS visibility, especially over weekends.
The last point on the agenda put the community concerns in a nutshell.
“How will the police assist us in getting our town back from drugs and crime?”
To SAPS credit, they sent the top team to face the questions. Alongside Sector 6 Satellite Station Commander Kapp were Knysna Station Commander Metu, Head of Visible Policing Colonel Gogwana, Detective Branch Commander Colonel Khan, and Knysna CPF Chair Cheryl Brits. Sedgefield’s Community Orientated Policing (COP) was represented by Michael Simon.
Colonel Gogwana fielded most of the questions, as one by one community members stood to talk about the very bleak crime situation in Smutsville and Sizamile.
“I have to sleep with a knife in my bed in case someone breaks in,” said one woman who is a single parent.
“We feel like the justice system is failing us in Smutsville,” complained another.
Another speaker, a young man who relocated here from the Eastern Cape some time back, said he had never lived in a community as fearful of crime as Smutsville. He said that there is a very real danger of residents taking the law into their own hands. “I feel I am not protected,” he said, “If someone breaks into my home I will do anything to sort him out.”
Shouts of agreement echoed from the floor, and it seemed that a sizeable number of those present felt vigilantism was the only answer.
Gogwana explained that whilst everyone has the right to defend themselves, residents should refrain from going out and looking for criminals. “Then you are taking the law into your own hands,” he warned, “If you do that, then I will have no choice but to prosecute you.”
He called on residents to share information with SAPS, saying that the police will endeavour to raid suspected drug houses, or businesses buying and selling stolen property. He said that it is only with communities working together with SAPS, and joining registered Neighbourhood Watches, that any dent can be made in criminal activity.
When a few from the floor suggested that SAPS members were not doing their jobs effectively, he said the large number of criminals incarcerated in Knysna proved that they were.
“Correctional Services can house 179 prisoners max. Currently there are 370. That is more than double – so it’s not like we are not making arrests,” he said.
Another understandable complaint from local residents was that SAPS members had been bringing suspects around to their accusers homes for identification. This, they said, put them in the very scary position of ‘being identified as the one who had informed’. Gogwana agreed that this was totally wrong, and asked that any instances that suggest inappropriate conduct by any SAPS member be formally reported at a SAPS station, so that he or she can be taken to task.
Warrant Officer Kapp was one of the last to take the microphone – and touched on the subject of the juvenile crime that seems to be pervading the town. He put at least some of the responsibility at the feet of the parents, saying that tackling this issue must start at the home, with the children.
Members of the community agreed, suggesting that with school holidays approaching, activities to keep young people busy were a must.
What started as a potentially explosive meeting eventually brought most people present to agreement:- That SAPS could only be more effective with assistance from the community and the Neighbourhood Watch, that parents had to make every effort to keep young children and teens off the streets at night, and that the police would play their part by initiating higher visibility in the community on a regular basis..