If you’re looking for a masterclass in mismanagement, Mpumalanga’s Thaba Chweu municipality offers just that. Ballooning costs flowing from dubious contracts for an electrical substation could be the financial death blow for the municipality’s main town, Mashishing (Lydenburg). The small municipality is already one of the worst-performing in a province full of dysfunctional local councils. But what started as a R118m project to build a 132kV substation in 2012 has spiralled to well over three times that cost. Six years later, and with a price tag of about R400m, construction of the Duma substation has ground to a halt. Earlier this year, not long after the first bricks were laid, the municipality ordered the contractor, a state-owned Chinese company, to stop construction. This came after criticism from opposition councillors, activists and residents that there was no need to sink such a vast sum into a substation in the first place — and that the municipality had signed away most of...

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