Town leaders denied any impropriety.
After the release of the public protector’s report, Zweliphansi Skhosana, the municipal manager and a rival of Mr. Magaqa, reiterated that he had not benefited directly from the project. He said he welcomed the investigation into political killings because of “perceptions” that they were linked to the project.
A.N.C. leaders have shown little appetite to investigate political killings — they are fearful, critics say, that fresh revelations would harm the party’s image with national elections approaching next year.
President Cyril Ramaphosa’s police minister rejected an earlier recommendation by the public protector’s office to provide police protection for two A.N.C. whistle-blowers who came forward with information about the killings in Umzimkhulu. Oupa Segalwe, a spokesman for the public protector, said his office lacks the resources to legally challenge the police.
The current head of the public protector’s office, Busisiwe Mkhwebane, is considered weak, especially compared to her immediate predecessor, Thulisile Madonsela, who led efforts to expose corruption inside the governing party under the previous president, Jacob Zuma.
“She’s being very careful,” Mary de Haas, an expert on political killings said of the current public protector, adding that the whistle-blowers have made “life too embarrassing for the A.N.C.”
One of the two whistle-blowers, Thabiso Zulu, an A.N.C. anti-corruption activist, has faced death threats and has been living in hiding for months. Mr. Zulu said he wanted to sue the police to get protection but lacked the resources.
“I’m cornered, running out of cash, running out of support,” Mr. Zulu said. “I’m at a level where I say, ‘Come what may.’”