Rural activist's arrest gets mixed response

2009-03-10 00:00

THE news of the arrest of Sizani Ngubane, KwaZulu-Natal rural women’s “champion” and founder of the Rural Women’s Movement (RWM), has been received with mixed reactions among donors in the United States.

Some organisations have cut ties with RWM and Ngubane following the reports about charges of fraud and defeating the ends of justice laid against her.

U.S.-based independent journalist Jane Bright told The Witness that the arrest of Ngubane has been met with much interest in Boston.

“I personally have been in correspondence with the RWM over the last few months in an attempt to establish the credibility of the organisation. The response received can only be described in the mildest of terms as unprofessional.”

Bright said responses to her inquiries about the RWM were defensive and raised her suspicions about the credibility of the organisation. “Now my intuition has been confirmed.”

The Witness has copies of e-mails between Bright and RWM.

According to Bright, the Foundation for the Development of Africa (FDA) removed the RWM from its website after the story about

Ngubane’s arrest was published. RWM is no longer on the list of FDA trading partners at

http://www.fdapartners.net.

Bright said following the exchange of e-mails, she stumbled upon The Witness article about Ngubane and Rick Baratta. One of the e-mails from RWM accused her of being a private investigator hired by Baratta.

“Baratta is wasting your time. We can prove to you that in the past he employed four private investigators locally and internationally to investigate Ngubane. By employing you what difference is this going to make,” one of the e-mails read.

“After this I Googled Baratta and found a report by The Witness regarding the issue of Baratta and Ngubane,” said Bright. She then began investigating Baratta and found that he is a 77-year-old Rotarian and a former police chief from California.

Last year, Ngubane accused Baratta of breaking into her offices in Sweetwaters and stealing her computer and two cameras. Charges against Baratta were discharged on the basis that he was wrongfully prosecuted.

Last month, items worth more than R100 000 were allegedly found in Ngubane’s garage after she reported them stolen and was making insurance claims for the loss.

“What is of greater interest is whether any of the property Ngubane claimed to have been stolen by Baratta some time back, was among the items recovered by police … in her home,” said Bright.

Baratta’s name was also in the news last year after police were told that narcotics and illegal firearms were allegedly being kept in his house.

Police raided the house and confiscated a number of firearms. But all the guns were returned after it was established that Baratta had licences for them.

Robin Rowland of Global Links Initiative (see story above) claims that Baratta sent his organisation threatening e-mails. “We knew nothing about all this until we suddenly received recently an unsolicited, nasty, intimidating e-mail from Baratta.”

Baratta denied making any threats to the organisation. “I have been sending The Witness article [Activist faces fraud charges — February 25] to all the organisations that have funded the Rural Women’s Movement. Global Links is one of them.

“There is absolutely no intimidation involved … Last year, I contacted Tides organisation to advise them of Ngubane and the response was very defensive, assuring me that Ngubane had an excellent reputation and her programmes were sound. Of course most of these charitable organisations would not like to hear that they have provided money that was not used properly; like Tides, they solicit funds from others to disperse.”

Support: 'She's like Mother Teresa'

SIZANI Ngubane was hailed as a “Mother Teresa” by another U.S. organisation, Global Links Initiative.

Global Links Initiative chairman and co-founder Robin Rowland defended Ngubane, saying they are “staggered” by the accusations made against her.

“She is one of the most wonderful people alive anywhere in the world. She is a real champion of people who are treated badly by others and need to be helped to create sustainable lives. She is in the Mother Teresa category and has inspired others all over the world.”

Rowland said KZN and South Africa should be proud of Ngubane. “We are very suspicious that others must for their own reasons want to stop her doing good.”

He said the prosecution of Ngubane would be “a massive injustice that will damage forever many people’s lives in KZN”.

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