Nkonyeni back in cabinet

2013-10-08 00:00

CONTROVERSIAL former legislature speaker Peggy Nkonyeni yesterday was given the position she most desired — the title of Education MEC.

Nkonyeni’s appointment was announced by Premier Senzo Mchunu at a press conference in Durban.

Her appointment is seen by some as a comeback from the cold after she was sidelined from the Zweli Mkhize cabinet and deployed to head the legislature in 2009.

She also is perceived as a powerful figure within the ANC-led alliance where she now serves as ANC provincial treasurer and on the executive committee of the SACP.

“All of us know that she has been an organic cadre and that is why her name always appears whenever there is to be deployment,” said one senior party leader.

When she did not get the nod as the premier, Nkonyeni’s name was among the first bandied about for consideration to replace Mchunu when he was appointed premier.

Until yesterday, the names of education portfolio committee chairperson Linda Hlongwa and former Sadtu provincial secretary were among those touted as possible contenders, but Nkonyeni, as some expected, clinched the position.

Another source said Nkonyeni had long wanted the portfolio and education was close to her heart.

While she was the speaker, Nkonyeni ran a social responsibility programme handing over mobile science kits to various schools.

“It was to say ‘this is what I want’. In Health, people used to say she was not suitable because she was not a doctor,” the source said, adding Mchunu probably saw commitment and potential in her to lead the department that has the largest budget in the province.

“She showed an interest in education even when she was not the Education MEC and the ANC observed this,” the source said.

Until recently Nkonyeni was among three people who were vying for the top job after former premier Mkhize stepped down in August to become the ANC treasurer-general on a full-time basis.

In 2004, she became the Health MEC and was then appointed as the speaker of the legislature in 2009.

Her star dimmed when she was accused of corruption and fraud with 23 others, in the so-called “Amigos” trial that arose from a tender awarded to Cape Town-based Uruguay businessman Gaston Savoi’s company Intaka Holdings, which was awarded a contract to supply water purification and oxygen plants.

A labour court heard recently from suspended Health Department employee Kantha Padayachee that Nkonyeni exerted pressure on officials to accelerate the awarding of the contract in exchange for a donation to the ANC.

The charges against Nkonyeni and Economic Development MEC Mike Mabuyakhulu were withdrawn last year by then acting National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) Moipone Noko on the grounds that there was no prospect of successful prosecution.

In May this year, the DA lodged an application in the Pietermaritzburg high court asking the court to order the NPA to give reasons why it withdrew the criminal charges against Nkonyeni and Mabuyakhulu.

This was after the NPA turned down the DA’s request for information under the Promotion of Access to Information Act, on the basis that the representations made to to it were “confidential in nature”.

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