Mpumalanga Premier Refilwe Mtshweni-Tsipane is still investigating her cabinet colleague’s conduct following her alleged attempt to appoint her “boyfriend” as a technical advisor last October.
The scandal involving the MEC of culture, sport and recreation and acting provincial ANC secretary, Lindiwe Ntshalintshali, would not have been publicly known until her relationship with the alleged boyfriend, Mbuso Thumbathi, soured when they were heard on leaked audio-recording allegedly discussing her department’s officials and deals – and also engaging in risqué talk.
Ntshalintshali allegedly reached an agreement with Thumbathi to take up the job, but when he reported for duty on October 10 2019, he was turned away and told that there was no budget allocated for the post.
The MEC had also allegedly appointed Thumbathi as her representative in the National Heritage Council, which was also reversed.
Mtshweni-Tsipane’s spokesperson, Sibongile Mkani-Mpolweni, said: “The alleged impropriety is a subject of an ongoing investigation by the integrity management unit (IMU) within the office of the premier. Upon finalisation of same, the premier shall be furnished with the findings and upon application of her mind to same, the premier shall make a determination on the findings.”
Mkani-Mpolweni could not provide clarity on when the investigation started or specify the wrongdoing being investigated – whether it was Ntshalintshali’s alleged attempt to hire her alleged boyfriend and the financial risk involved should Thumbathi decide to go to court for breach of the agreement or the details they were heard discussing in the leaked audio recording.
She said that Mtshweni-Tsipane could not comment on the relationship between the two.
“The appointment of support staff in any political office is at the discretion of the political office bearer and informed by the nature of output sought by the political office bearer. Furthermore, an appointee should have an appointment letter at his/her disposal before assumption of duty. In this case there has been no appointment letter issued to Thumbathi,” Mkani-Mpolweni said.
Thumbathi previously indicated that there was an agreement and that he was called to the office to start working.
He declined to comment but he told City Press in January that he was already doing Ntshalintshali’s work before his official appointment – writing her speaking notes for radio interviews, her speeches and accompanied her on official visits.
“She insisted that I must work because I was officially on the job even though I had not received an appointment letter. This made sense to me because MECs hire their own support staff according to the Ministerial Handbook,” Thumbathi said then.
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However, the plan was derailed when Ntshalintshali’s husband found out about the affair, which both Ntshalintshali and Thumbathi were heard discussing in the audio recording.
Sources close to the IMU have cast doubt that the investigation started more than six months ago, claiming that they have heard nothing from the unit.
Welcome Nkuna, who heads the unit, declined to comment as he was “not authorised to speak to the media”.
The sources, who are privy to investigations, said that Mtshweni-Tsipane never said anything about the matter after the scandal broke. Her silence was attributed to the fact that she had been cautious because the matter was sensitive politically.
Mtshweni-Tsipane and Ntshalintshali belong to opposition factions fighting to win Mpumalanga’s long overdue ANC conference. The premier will contest as provincial chairperson while Ntshalintshali wants to be the deputy secretary in the faction led by acting secretary Mandla Ndlovu.
The premier’s candidacy is, however, now doubtful as cracks have emerged from within her faction. Insiders are now alleging that provincial ANC spokesperson and Health MEC Sasekani Manzini or Finance MEC Pat Ngomane are now being pushed as frontrunners for the position.
EFF provincial chairperson, Collen Sedibe, said that nepotism and favouritism were rife in the Mpumalanga government.
“What is more worrisome is that the premier made a commitment during her state of the province address that she would fight corruption and nepotism tooth and nail but she is not walking the talk.
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“It is going to be difficult for the premier to take decisive action against her executives and head of departments because she is part of the rot hence no action was taken against [Ntshalintshali] for hiring her alleged boyfriend and firing of her staff members and committing government tenders to the self-confessed boyfriend.”