‘I was told to either join the DA or ship out’
‘The Godfather’ refuses to don the blue T-shirt and ‘sell his soul’ ... or, at least, that's his side of the story
A social entrepreneur in the Cape winelands fears losing his business, saying a councillor threatened to take away his makeshift property when he refused to join the DA.
Mbuyiseli Blayi, who runs a chicken restaurant and Internet café in Franschhoek from a 6m-long shipping container owned by Stellenbosch Local Municipality, described the past year as “hellish and unsettling” after Stellenbosch councillor Wilhelmina Petersen allegedly told him to either join the DA or lose the container.
Petersen has denied his claims, describing them as “plain nonsense”.
Blayi said one of the recent intimidation incidents was the suspension of his electricity. “When I phoned the electricity department I was then informed by an electrician on duty that my electricity supply had been cut off following orders from Ms Petersen,” Blayi told Times Select.
“When I confronted Ms Petersen about the issue she denied that she ordered the electrician to cut off the electricity supply to my premises, but fortunately I have the electrician on tape alleging that it was indeed Ms Petersen that gave such orders.”
Blayi said he had taken up the matter with Stellenbosch mayor Gesie van Deventer, whose office told Times Select no threats had been directed at Blayi.
Municipality spokesperson Stuart Grobbelaar said when Petersen told Blayi he could use the container, he was informed that no private individual could use a municipal property free of charge. Blayi had agreed to obtain an alternative container, as he knew his agreement with the municipality was temporary.
Blayi, who has been running his business from the container in Langrug informal settlement for three years, also teaches children and unemployed people how to use computers, and has a small library where schoolchildren study in the evenings.
Known as The Godfather in the community of 7,000, he said he ploughed profits back into the community in the form of school shoes, uniforms and sanitary pads.
He said his problems started early last year when Peterson “jokingly” told him to join the DA and suggested he delay giving out shoes at Dalubuhle Primary School until closer to the elections, then they could do it together dressed in DA T-shirts.
“I refused. I told her that I’m apolitical and I don’t want my donations to be associated with any political party. I use about 25% of my profits to reinvest back to the community, as I don’t want schoolchildren to miss out on school due to their socioeconomic status,” he said.
According to Blayi, Petersen’s attitude then changed. “She started to come up with different proposals that the container could be used for.
“At some point, it was used as a first-aid station for the community, which I didn’t have a problem with. She then told me to vacate so that she could use the container as an office for the taxi industry.
“Every time she sees me she threatens to take the container away. She has become very arrogant. I fear that I will soon be out of business, as she can take the container away any time.”
Petersen denied there was any tension between herself and Blayi, saying: "Any issues concerning the container have been discussed with the mayor, and there is nothing more to say.
"There is no tension or threats unless Mr Blayi can prove his claims. He had an opportunity to address all his concerns with the mayor and as far as I know they were all addressed," she said.
Petersen also denied that she tried to woo Blayi to join her party.
"As a councillor I do my canvassing as expected by my party. But my canvassing was an open invite to everyone in the community. I did everything in the open... not just to Blayi," she said.
Blayi said he was not making enough money to buy a new container. “[It] would cost me about R25,000 before it’s even converted,” he said.
“I don’t have that kind of money, as my business is more of a social upliftment initiative rather than a profit-generation business. If I lose the container, this community will suffer too. It saddens me that I have to sell my soul to a political party just to keep my business. I don’t agree with that at all.”
Grobbelaar said Blayi was “misrepresenting the facts” in a misguided attempt to manipulate the municipality into letting him keep the container.
“When the mayor personally met with Mr Blayi and in his communication with her, he never complained about any political pressure or interference from the councillor,” he said.
“The mayor explained to him that, in terms of the Municipal Finance Management Act, a private individual is not entitled to the use of private municipal property for his own purposes free of charge.
“Mr Blayi indicated that he will be receiving a container from a donor, but needs a month or two to finalise this arrangement.”
Grobbelaar also denied Blayi’s electricity connection was cut off. Instead, it “was simply moved to another spot on the site in order to prepare the container for its removal”.