Calls for ‘corrupt’ Ngconde Balfour to testify before Zondo Commission

The widow of former prisons boss Vernie Petersen has called on her late husband’s political head, Ngconde Balfour, to give evidence before the Zondo Commission into state capture.

June Petersen was one of several speakers at the launch of the Justice4Vernie Foundation at St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town on Saturday.

The foundation will support initiatives to build an ethical public service and nominate Vernie Petersen to receive the Order of the Baobab posthumously.

Petersen’s name came up during the testimony of former Bosasa chief operating officer Angelo Agrizzi, who testified before Zondo that the corruption-accused company allegedly paid R1m per month to prison officials, Popcru members and former prisons boss Khulekani Sithole to undermine Petersen’s efforts to clean up correctional services.

Petersen was moved to the sports department in 2010 after butting heads with Balfour about rooting out corruption in the department. He died in 2011.

June Petersen said on Saturday that her late husband worked alongside Balfour in the Anglican Church’s Board of Social Responsibility in the 1980s.

"I really hope he will go to the Zondo Commission because he has to," she said.

READ: Presidency to wait for Zondo report before acting against Cabinet members

Her sentiments were echoed by Neil Cole, longtime friend of the Petersens and convenor of the foundation, who said Vernie Petersen was "prevented by a corrupt minister of correctional services" to root out corruption in the department.

Petersen was overruled by Balfour in his attempts to prevent an extension of a prisons catering contract that was awarded to Bosasa in 2004. The contract was cancelled last month, 15 years later, after Agrizzi’s explosive evidence to the commission.

In a recorded message, Archbishop Thabo Makgoba also said it was "time for Balfour to account to the Zondo Commission".

Agrizzi testified that numerous correctional services officials were bribed by Bosasa, but that they couldn’t get to Petersen. He also denied that Balfour was bribed with a discounted 4X4 vehicle.

Former finance minister Trevor Manuel, who fought alongside Petersen in the anti-apartheid structures in Mitchell’s Plain, said it was common cause that the struggle "has veered way off course".

He said it was fundamentally important for leaders to ask themselves "what do we do about the stuff we encounter?"

This was in response to June Petersen’s comments that her husband turned to his colleagues in cabinet and even in the Presidency (under Thabo Mbeki) when he was under pressure, but was told to turn a blind eye.

Manuel said it was important that wrongdoers go to jail. "We cannot pretend that they represent us."

Former Cape Town mayor Theresa Solomon said "as a collective we failed to protect comrade Vernie". 

She drew parallels with the way in which Police Minister Bheki Cele had recently gotten rid of Robert McBride as head of the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) and called on those in attendance to protest against this move. "Mr Minister, hands off Robert McBride!"

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