Mbombela boss dogged by dodgy land deals
Neil Diamond, the new acting municipal manager of Mpumalanga’s cash-strapped City of Mbombela, who was appointed to turn its fortunes around, is expected to deal with negative perceptions about his past – including his involvement in a controversial R40 million land swap deal with his previous employer.
The Mpumalanga department of cooperative governance and traditional affairs appointed Diamond to help resolve Mbombela’s financial struggles, which saw employees being paid late in February and May, and service providers left begging for their payments long after delivering.
“He comes highly recommended, [and has] many years of experience as a councillor in the City of Ekurhuleni and qualifications such as an MBA,” said a source in the Mpumalanga government.
However, Diamond’s chequered history in Ekurhuleni, where he served as ANC councillor, has raised questions from those who checked his background.
Diamond applied for the job of municipal manager, and the cooperative governance department appointed him to stabilise the municipality for at least 18 months. The municipality will thereafter appoint a manager for a fixed five-year term.
Department of cooperative governance head Peter Nyoni said: “We wrote to the integrity management unit in Premier David Mabuza’s office, asking it to screen him. We do not know about the land deal, but it will not be in the best interests of the public if he has shady dealings from the past.”
When Diamond was ANC councillor in Ekurhuleni in Gauteng, he and his business partner, Sydney Rean Booysen, were involved in a controversial land swap deal with the Ekurhuleni municipality in 2006. Diamond doubled as an estate agent at the time.
The deal saw Booysen’s companies – Hometalk Developments, Afropulse 132 and King Trade Invest 100010 – swapping their less valuable 55.3 hectare land for the Meyersdal Nature Estate upmarket housing development in Ekurhuleni in 2006, despite objections from the municipality’s corporate and legal affairs department. Diamond also owned a 20% stake in Afropulse.
It is estimated that Ekurhuleni municipality lost about R40 million because of the three companies’ land, Elandsfontein, which was 47% less valuable than the municipality’s Klipriviersberg.
Only 32.8ha of Elandsfontein could be developed as the other part was environmentally sensitive.
Booysen has tried in vain since the swap deal to get the municipality to grant him a certificate for the development of the estate.
The three companies failed in their Supreme Court of Appeal bid last month to overturn a high court decision that dismissed their claim for economic loss against Ekurhuleni, resulting from its refusal to grant them the certificate.
Diamond’s lawyer, Andrew Boerner, told City Press that although he was not part of the court application at the time, the allegations against his client were “vexatious and false, and based on incorrect facts. As such, they amount to a continued personal vendetta against Mr Diamond with the sole purpose to discredit and intimidate.”
Collen Sedibe, the Economic Freedom Fighters’ provincial chair, expressed disappointment at Diamond’s appointment.
“If they had screened Diamond, they would not have appointed him,” he said.