Written by Staff Writer
“I didn’t even know that the town of Schweizer-Reneke existed, when I drove here for the interview, it felt like it was at the end of the world,” Mercy Phetla told the CFOTalks podcast in April last year.”
Phetla was interviewing for the post of CFO at Mamusa Local Municipality. “I was job hunting when I saw the advert, so I Googled about Mamusa and saw that there were a lot of things that the Auditor General has raised, a lot of things that gave me chills, but because I had been with Auditor General, I knew my capabilities and I thought I could turn this thing around.”
How debit orders led to death threats
Red flags abounded from the start of Mercy’s tenure. First, she struggled to gain access to the municipalities bank account, with officials claiming they couldn’t help her. Once Mercy gained access, she noticed that the municipality had credit cards, something not allowed under the MFMA, prompting an appointment with the bank.
“I discovered that 90 percent of the suppliers for Mamusa had debit orders, they were receiving money through debit orders. That is a bad practice, it’s not actually allowed.” This meant suppliers would be paid regardless of whether work was done or not.
Mercy was able to reverse some of the transactions and recover R1.1 million.
“Then I submitted a full report to the finance portfolio committee and when I submitted it in May, it was the first time that the municipality had a finance portfolio committee sitting in the past three years.”
“I was praised at that point, we went to council, they approved and said get a service provider to investigate. But when the investigation started, those praises went out of the window,” said Mercy. “I didn’t know that the people who were stealing were the ones I was working with. The only ones who were supporting me at the time were the junior staff.”
Within weeks of taking up the CFO post, Mercy was receiving death threats.
“I was followed in January by GP-registration cars everywhere I went. There was a drone that was flown over my house, checking my movements and then a person came to alert me that this is what you were doing at this time. They were showing me pictures of me and there were messages that said we know your every movement.”
“Then recently, these people have been calling me, they first sent me messages to say watch out, we are sent to kill you,” Mercy told the podcast. “It turned out these are all prisoners, they told me there was a person who brought my name and all my details [to the prison] and what car I drive and where I stay and my pictures so that they can threaten me. Then they told me that they were supposed to kill me by last Friday.”
“When I went to the police here to report it, they were laughing, and they said it’s nothing. Then the next thing I see an article about the escape, and they actually escaped [from Rooigrond Prison] before Friday.”
Determination despite daunting circumstances
Despite not being paid and being denied access to the bank account again, and all work at the municipality halting because of the protest, Mercy continued to work at the municipality. Shortly before the podcast, Moneyweb published an article in March 2022 about the threats Mercy was receiving.
“As a result of the Moneyweb article, I received positive responses from the government and the police. As we were preparing to start this interview, I was also sitting with the Special Investigating Unit to gather more evidence, which I gave them,” said Mercy.
“Honestly, I am seriously exhausted, I’m forced now by some of the employees who say, we have supported you and if you leave, we are going to be victimised. Some of them have been unfairly suspended. So I am just staying to fight that and also for the community.”