One question has been asked since murder accused Mpumalanga politician Mandla Msibi began his stay in police custody: Is this a political conspiracy or not?
Fresh from being acquitted about two months ago on a string of charges that include assault, theft and attempted murder, for which he has been frequenting the Nelspruit and Kabokweni courts since 2018, the former Mpumalanga agriculture MEC is back in the dock for the alleged murder of two ANC members and the attempted murder of a third party member.
His lawyer, Coert Jordaan, tore the cases his client was acquitted of apart, saying they were nothing but a political conspiracy, which he said had a common denominator in Themba Bulunga, an ANC councillor in the City of Mbombela, who was either a complainant or a witness in each of them.
This time, it is not yet clear what the source of the supposed conspiracy is, but Jordaan reiterated that it was another instance of politicking in Mpumalanga.
The Nelspruit Magistrates’ Court is scheduled to decide next Tuesday whether Msibi gets bail or not.
He handed himself over to the police on Monday after being linked to a shooting incident that happened on August 22 near Coyotes Shisa Nyama, a drinking and braai spot in Mbombela.
The incident is allegedly related to ANC members fighting about a candidate list conference that was held at Nutting House Lodge outside the city last month.
According to ANC provincial acting secretary Lindiwe Ntshalintshali, Msibi briefed the provincial executive committee (PEC) with her on that day and then went out to collect food at Coyotes.
Killers driving in a blue double-cab bakkie allegedly opened fire on a VW Polo and killed Sindela Sipho Lubisi and Dingane Ngwenya outside the establishment. A third ANC person, Sfiso Mpila, was wounded.
Ntshalintshali said the two vehicles were parked at the gate when she drove out of Nutting House and its occupants, who were ANC members, tried to block her as they apparently had issues with the list of councillors, but police cleared the gate and she was able to go home.
Two suspects, Joseph Charlie Ngwenya (35) and Tshepo Matsane (30), were arrested on September 17 before Msibi handed himself over. They were released on R20 000 bail each.
Two Coyotes staff members have given Msibi an alibi. They said in sworn statements that Msibi was inside the establishment, paying and collecting his food when the shooting happened outside.
Political career on the rise
In a dramatic turn of events this week, Msibi, who was a rising star within the ANC, lost everything.
Premier Refilwe Mtshweni-Tsipane, who said that she held Msibi “in high regard” and “would continue to do so until proven otherwise”, removed him from her cabinet, where he was agriculture, rural development, land and environmental affairs MEC.
The PEC removed him from the structure and as Mpumalanga elections manager, but he retains his party membership.
When Msibi was a ward councillor for Pienaar in the City of Mbombela, no politician would dare work in the township without consulting him. Even Deputy President David Mabuza – who was powerful as premier and as Mpumalanga ANC chairperson – did not cross him.
Msibi rose to be Speaker in the City of Mbombela and, seeing how he had got his constituency fully behind him, Mabuza co-opted him into the PEC.
He is said to have refused an offer to be an MEC at first, and only took the position after Mabuza was elected as deputy president of the country and Mtshweni-Tsipane became premier.
Pienaar has remained his stronghold, and his support emanated from the fact that he was always available for the people on the ground, and fought hard to ensure that government only awarded tenders to local suppliers and contractors. But his presence also created enemies, who alleged that he commanded a vigilante group that looked after his interests and terrorised anyone who dared to differ.
Even when he was appointed into the provincial cabinet in 2018, Msibi did not leave Pienaar to occupy a state house in Mbombela.
His name has been mentioned for a top five position in the upcoming ANC provincial elective conference, but whether he will stand depends on this case.
Since 2011, Msibi has been working on establishing a R7.8 billion agricity on the outskirts of Pienaar, adjacent to the Kruger National Park. Together with property developer Philip Kleijnhans and traditional leader Sicelo Nkosi, Msibi is working to develop Nkosi City.
It will have 1 747 RDP houses, 1 166 upmarket apartments, 558 bonded houses and an estate for the wealthy. It will include amenities such as a 50 000m² shopping mall, a private clinic, schools and a private higher education and training college.
Government has approved the project, which, until recently, was projected to be completed in 2026.
Msibi fought hard with Mabuza, who did not initially support the idea. However, they mended their relationship when Mabuza did an about-turn and gave the project his support.