A Bloemfontein whistle-blower who had apparently lodged a complaint with the public protector and was working with the Hawks anti-corruption unit was gunned down last Friday.
Xola Banisi (43) had also been in contact with amaBhungane, promising to supply incriminating documents days before he was shot dead in Bloemfontein’s Hillside township.
Banisi told amaBhungane that he suspected large-scale corruption involving two service providers at the parastatal Bloem Water, where he worked in the human resources department.
Asked whether Banisi had lodged a complaint, the public protector’s office did not specifically name him.
But spokesperson Kgalalelo Masibi said her office had received two complaints, in September last year and January this year, from Bloem Water employees who alleged “maladministration in that training contracts were issued, but that double payments were made to different service providers for the same training”.
This was precisely Banisi’s grievance, as conveyed to amaBhungane. Masibi said the investigation has been finalised and a report is being drafted.
Hawks spokesperson Paul Ramaloko would neither confirm nor deny that Banisi was working with the police at the time of his death, saying that the identity of whistle-blowers had to be protected.
But this week Bloem Water’s chief executive, Limakatso Moorosi, appeared to confirm indirectly that the police are investigating. Asked about the progress of their and the protector’s inquiries, she said in an email: “The reports are not yet submitted to Bloem Water.”
The dead man’s brother, Bernard Banisi, told amaBhungane that Xola’s body was found next to his car outside his girlfriend’s house, on Friday close to midnight. He had been shot three times.
Bernard said he believed Xola’s murder was “a hit, because on several occasions he told me that he was receiving death threats”.
AmaBhungane has seen no evidence to suggest that his murder was related to the whistle-blowing and the police have not linked any suspect to the murder.
However, Bloemfontein police spokesperson Dineo Ntsika said robbery did not appear to be the motive, as none of Banisi’s possessions seemed to have been removed and his car keys and cellphone were found next to him.
She said there were bullet holes in the driver’s side window, giving the impression that the assailant had fired the first shots at the car. It appeared that Banisi was shot dead while trying to escape.
“The entry wounds indicate that one firearm was used, but we are waiting for the results of ballistic tests to come back. We presume the murder weapon was a revolver,” said Ntsika.
Bernard said his brother was a principled person and a South African Municipal Workers’ Union (Samwu) shop steward. “By virtue of his position he could not keep quiet when he saw something was wrong. Perhaps that made him enemies.”
He said he had told Xola on several occasions to report the death threats to the police.
Mysterious and threatening SMSes
A police source who asked to remain anonymous told amaBhungane that Banisi had reported the threats to the police and that an investigation was under way.
Samwu’s Free State secretary, Dumisane Magagula, said the murder comes as a huge blow, as Banisi was central to the union’s efforts to investigate allegations of corruption at Bloem Water, which provides water services to the southern and central areas of the Free State.
Magagula said Banisi had gone to the union offices to complain about mysterious SMSes he had received on his phone, warning him that he was being watched and that his life was in danger.
He said Banisi’s role as a union representative often set him at loggerheads with Bloem Water management. He had lodged a number of complaints with the union, the first of which related to his demotion as a training officer.
Before his death Banisi told amaBhungane that he had been sidelined after he started raising questions about payments to certain Bloem Water service providers.
Before his death, Banisi raised concerns
The allegations concern two companies, Manange Business Enterprises and Black and White Trading, which Banisi alleged were paid R820?000 between December 2012 and June last year for “doing virtually nothing”. The allegations were repeated by two independent inside sources.
AmaBhungane spoke to the owner of both companies, Sipokazi Mtirara, who asked for questions to be sent to her, which was done on Tuesday morning this week. By Thursday morning she had not replied and was not answering her phone.
Banisi said that after he was no longer entrusted with organising and conducting training sessions Samwu agreed to arbitration, which resulted in his transfer to the human resources department.
He claimed he had noticed that two companies were often both paid for a single training session in which only one did the work.
“I monitored most of the sessions, so it came as a surprise to me when I saw the invoices and realised I had no idea who the other company was,” Banisi said.
He told amaBhungane that after conducting his own investigations, including inspecting the parastatal’s books, he had lodged an internal complaint.
A witch hunt
Magagula alleged that Banisi had asked Samwu to intervene when Bloem Water officials conducted what he believed to be a “witch hunt” of junior staff members to discover the identity of his informant.
“We told management that no interviews should be conducted without us being present, and they stopped.”
Bloem Water’s Moorosi confirmed to amaBhungane that Banisi filed a grievance against his supervisor, Thandi Kgantsi, in July last year that related to his work being executed by someone else. She said the matter was resolved amicably.
Magagula said Banisi filed a complaint about alleged verbal abuse and intimidation by Kgantsi.
In response, Kgantsi said she and Banisi had a professional relationship. “I never harassed or intimidated Banisi … he was not in my department, so I had no constant contact and communication with him.”
Moorosi also strongly denied that Banisi had ever filed a grievance against anyone in management in connection with alleged corruption. “It is a concern that you are given false information, and I am not sure of the motive,” she said.
“I am not aware of [grievances of this kind] and have also consulted with his supervisor, the human resources executive, who confirmed that Bloem Water has never received [one].”
Banisi claimed to amaBhungane that his “harassment” intensified after he asked about the “Moroka report”, a forensic audit by Moroka Attorneys of alleged fraud and corruption at the parastatal, commissioned by Moorosi in November last year.
A Bloem Water insider, who also asked not to be named, said that the report was presented to Moorosi early this year but that no one else had seen it. “It was never tabled, even at the board meeting,” the source claimed.
Moorosi said the issues raised in the report had been dealt with at administrative level. She did not give details of the report’s findings or what action had been taken in response to them.
AmaBhungane has seen internal Bloem Water documents that raise questions about payments to Manange Business Enterprises and Black and White Trading.
In one invoice, Manange submitted a claim for training it said it had conducted on the handling of disciplinary hearings and a workshop on labour-related issues.
However, according to documents seen by amaBhungane, another firm invoiced for the training and issued the relevant certificates.
Moorosi insisted that Manange had co-ordinated the training, but did not elaborate. “Contractually it is not for Bloem Water to give information about the service providers registered in its own database.”
According to another invoice seen by amaBhungane, Manange also charged R170 000 for co-ordinating firefighting training for 30 people, but an invoice from a separate company, also seen by amaBhungane, claims to have conducted the same training for 15 staff members.
Moorosi said that Manange had co-ordinated the training and that, according to Bloem Water records, 30 people had benefited from it.
“We are not in control of the subcontracting …”
A senior source at Bloem Water, who asked not to be named, raised questions about Moorosi’s version. “In most cases, the training providers bring their own stationery for the delegates to use. And if the training takes place away from the office, for example at a hotel, that establishment will invoice for venue and catering,” the source said.
“Surely a company should not be paid for just picking up a phone and making a booking. There are officials who can do that internally.”
The leaked invoices also show that Bloem Water paid Black and White Trading R300 000 for firefighting services.
According to its website, Black and White provides corporate branding. In addition, a further invoice indicates that the training was provided by another outfit, which issued certificates.
Asked about Black and White’s firefighting experience, Moorosi suggested that it might have legitimately subcontracted other trainers. “We are not in control of the subcontracting they do with the trainers,” she said.
Banisi leaves behind his family, including three children.
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