The Pietermaritzburg City Hall in KwaZulu-Natal was rocked by terror on Monday when an explosion went off during a councillors’ private meeting where the city’s administrator, Sbu Sithole was about to address the province’s councillors.
Sithole, the former eThekwini city manager appointed as administrator in April this year, was presenting his assessment and was to give a roadmap to a turnaround strategy for the embattled Msunduzi Municipality.
Just as he was about to conclude his presentation, a loud explosion was heard near the entrance of the city hall, sending councillors ducking for cover.
It was thought a stun grenade had been detonated.
Councillor Thinasonke Ntombela said the incident was “scary”.
“We were about to deliberate on the presentation. The explosion was near the entrance and we got trapped as we dived for cover and ran for exit points at the same time. There was smoke all over the place and that led to some disorientation. This needs to be thoroughly investigated,” Ntombela said.
The municipality was put under administration when it became cash-strapped and was unable to pay employees. Sithole’s appointment was set to bring relief to the municipality.
“Some serious intervention is needed in this municipality, even if it means a change in leadership. People’s lives are at risk and security-wise we are exposed,” said ANC councillor Sandile Dlamini.
“We heard that there is no CCTV footage to view the unfolding of events. People just walk in and out of this building without being searched. No, this needs some serious attention,” added Dlamini.
He said the explosion sounded like a “huge” firecracker.
Bodyguards reportedly rushed in to protect speaker Jabu Ngubo and Sithole.
“The meeting was continuing smoothly when all of a sudden there was this loud bang and everyone was shocked because we did not know what it was,” said one staff member, who asked not to be named.
ANC Regional Task Team member Mzi Tebolla said they were concerned that a meeting had been disrupted. He said the incident had all the hallmarks of rendering the city ungovernable.
“The unfortunate thing is that not so long ago there were people who said they would make the city ungovernable. Even if it is not them, they will be the first people we will suspect,” he said.
ACDP councillor Rienus Niemand said: “I was sitting near the door when all of a sudden the room was filled with smoke and papers were flying. Even the walls became black. This was an act of pure intimidation. We are all shocked as this is an attack on the Constitution,” he said.
Niemand said the report was “fundamentally important” to eliminate corruption in the municipality and he was hopeful the municipality would overcome the incident.
DA councillor Jerome Majola said: “This was supposed to be a roadmap out of the municipality’s situation.
“The speaker gave political parties a platform to comment and the ANC went first. I followed and as I was just talking, there was a loud explosion from the doorway. I thought a gun went off accidentally.”
“As I rushed for the door, security and bodyguards came in and went for their principals and the administrator. We councillors were left open to any danger that was there,” he said.
Co-operative Governance MEC Sipho Hlomuka condemned the incident, saying this was “an act of terrorism, pure and simple”. He said a full investigation was underway.
“We cannot allow assailants to paralyse our local government institutions and intimidate our officials and the general public. What happened in Pietermaritzburg today has no place in a civilised society,” said Hlomuka.
Provincial police spokesperson Captain Nqobile Gwala said the explosives unit was summoned to the scene.
She said nothing was found and no case was opened.