A 25-year-old man appeared in court for fraud relating to his claims that senior African National Congress (ANC) members in Mpumalanga paid him to instigate service delivery protests, provincial police said on Saturday.
Sibusiso Mabuza made a statement to the police claiming two senior ANC leaders had paid him and three friends “to make Mpumalanga ungovernable”, police spokesman Captain Leonard Hlathi told the South African Press Association. “He claimed that he instigated the service delivery protests in Mpumalanga to destabilise the province. The intention behind the alleged smear campaign was to show certain Mpumalanga ANC leaders as failing in their responsibilities and ultimately a vote of no confidence would be passed against them,” said Hlathi.
Mabuza brought his three friends before the police to confirm his claims. However, the three kept changing their statements on interrogation. The four were released while the investigation continues. “Mabuza then allegedly went to one of [the] leaders, calling himself Muzi Sithole, and told him that he had been paid by other ANC leaders to lie to the police about the them paying him to instigate the protests. “The leader called the police,” said Hlathi. The police then identified Sithole as being Mabuza. He was arrested, SAPA added.
He appeared before the Nelspruit Magistrate’s Court on Friday facing charges of fraud and plagiarism. [Editor’s note: Plagiarism is not a known criminal offence in South Africa. It is not immediately clear how this “charge” relates to the facts.] His case was postponed until September 17 for a formal bail application. “This is the second incident where the police from Mpumalanga have arrested suspects for false smear campaigns. The police are viewing these allegations in a very serious light. ” We have no room for games and we hope that the court will be harsh on such individuals if found guilty.”
The other case referred to by Hlathi is likely the arrest of Sunday Times journalist Mzilikazi wa Afrika in early August on charges of fraud, forgery and uttering after he allegedly received by fax a copy of note purporting to be a letter of resignation from Mpumalanga Premier David Mabuza to President Jacob Zuma. Zuma’s office declared the letter false. Wa Afrika was arrested along with
Victor Mlimi, a deputy director in the Mpumalanga department of human settlements.
Wa Afrika, Mlimi and a third person were arrested on August 4 on initial charges of fraud and defeating the ends of justice. The charges against Wa Afrika and Mlimi were withdrawn, but then the three new charges were put to them. They were granted bail on August 6. They were due to return to court on November 8, but the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) announced on Tuesday it would provisionally withdraw the charges, but could reinstate them if further investigation warrants this.
“I just feel exonerated… .I have never done anything illegal as a journalist,” Wa Afrika said last week.
Commentators have long lamented the state of provincial politics in Mpumalanga, especially within the ANC, where factions furiously compete for key posts and gain control over the allocation of tenders. They have cautioned that Wa Afrika’s arrest in Johannesburg and court appearance in Nelspruit amounted to an abuse of state resources for political purposes at a time that media freedom was under severe threat.
Wa Afrika was arrested by the Hawks, a unit of the police dedicated to priority crimes, while a debate by the South African National Editors’ Forum (SANEF) on the ANC’s proposed media tribunal and the Protection of Information Bill was underway in the building housing his publication’s offices in Rosebank, Johannesburg. Ironically, the example of arrest was used during the debate as one extreme measure authorities could take against journalists in possession of information relating to state officials.
The arrest also came shortly after Wa Afrika had co-written an article on a R500 million lease agreement National Police Commissioner Bheki Cele had purportedly approved without it going out on tender. Cele told reporters after that article that Wa Afrika was “shady” and that “time will tell” if there would be any action taken against him.
On hearing of the plan to provisionally withdraw charges, the Hawks said they would “intensify” their investigation because they believed they had a “formidable” case. Wa Afrika’s bail of R5000, his notebooks and his passports were returned after Wednesday’s proceedings. However, he was concerned about the names that appeared in his notebooks and whether there would be consequences to these people. His lawyer Eric van den Berg said they would consider all the aspects of the case – the circumstances of his arrest and what has been said about him – before deciding whether to sue the state for his arrest.
SAPA adds that to date, in spite of calls by SANEF and the opposition Democratic Alliance party for an investigation into the circumstances of the arrest, Independent Complaints Directorate spokesman Moses Dlamini said they had not yet received a formal request to investigate the matter.