Community divided over ‘granny-beating’ mayor

2012-01-30 16:38

The court appearance of an Eastern Cape mayor who allegedly assaulted a 62-year-old woman has divided a small community.

The mayor’s supporters, from the ruling ANC, are being accused of threatening opposition councillors, who they blame for their comrade’s arrest.

Tsolwana Municipality mayor Khayalethu Nqiqhi handed himself over the police in Tarkastad this morning and appeared in the magistrate’s court on charges of assault with the intent to do grievous bodily harm. He was released on bail of R1 000 and his case was postponed to February 22 for further investigation.

Nqiqhi made headlines when town resident Mati Joka accused him of assaulting her and stomping on her chest, after the pair argued about unemployment in the town. She suffered large bruising to the body and face, and was taken to a private doctor in nearby Queenstown.

The mayor denied the assault and claims Joka hurt herself when she fell on a vase as he was trying to throw her out of the house he was in at the time.

The case has fuelled tensions in the town as residents were divided on the matter – with some condemning Nqiqhi, while a strong contingent of his supporters, believed to be made up of municipal employees, protested outside the police station, court, and municipal offices.

When Nqiqhi was eventually brought in by police this afternoon, the crowd broke into song, praising him by his clan name. He took a defiant stance as he lifted his fist into the air, a signal his supporters immediately responded to.

One of the placards held up by protesters read: “Jesus was crucified, Mandela was jailed, and Khaya is victimised.”

Others sang that Nqiqhi had worked for the ANC and had played a role in the struggle.

Inside the courtroom, just before the matter got underway, the mayor threatened media, saying he would “deal” with the City Press reporter and his photographer. Outside, his supporters, who were mostly wearing yellow ANC t-shirts, earlier allegedly threatened opposition councillors.

Cope councillor Vuyelwa Dyasi and Carol Boast from the DA said they were accosted by the group outside the town hall.

“They referred to us as dogs and said we got their mayor arrested,” said Dyasi, who has since reported the incident to police.

Joka, who missed the case, said she wished Nqiqhi had not been granted bail. “He should be inside until this whole thing is done, but now he looks like he will return to work tomorrow.”

The town council’s chief whip, Noluthando Nqabisa, said: “As a council our approach is to let the law take its course. What we can say now is that we fully support the mayor because we know he is innocent.”

ANC spokesperson in the province, Mlibo Qoboshiyane, today issued a statement which read: “We (ANC) are against any form of abuse, especially against women, children, elderly and the vulnerable members of our society.

“The ANC in the Chris Hani region has been requested to attend to the matter ... We wish to appeal to public figures and men of honour to handle even extreme provocation with absolute measure and consideration. The mayor is presumed innocent until proven guilty.”

Qoboshiyane added that the party would explore whether its reputation, and that of the municipality, has been damaged by the incident. “We extend our apology to the injured old lady, Ms Joka, and we regret this incident,” he said.

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