Mpumalanga Premier Refilwe Mtshweni-Tsipane is suing Mapholoba Letswalo, the former chief financial officer of the provincial department of agriculture, rural development, land and environmental affairs, for R2 million for defamation.
Letswalo, who was dismissed on January 20 2022, is being sued alongside his associate, Israel Silinda, for allegedly sharing a malicious email alleging that Mtshweni-Tsipane collected money from the service providers through the head of department, Cain Chunda.
According to the summons, the duo said Mtshweni-Tsipane was a corrupt and a fraudster who stole state resources to maintain her lifestyle and to cover expenses at her farm. They claimed that she was doing this in cohorts with Chunda.
Letswalo and Silinda sent the email to President Cyril Ramaphosa, various political parties and the media.
The summons from, Mboweni and Partners, the premier’s lawyers reads:
“The contents of the said letter is wrongful and defamatory in that they are intended to defame and injure the plaintiff’s dignity, fame and reputation,” the lawyers wrote.
Letswalo ignored an ultimatum to apologise for making the allegations. The department linked Letswalo to the letter after hiring cyber experts. He had allegedly used a departmental laptop to email the document from his work e-mail address to his G-mail account, and then to Silinda before it went viral.
The letter alleged that Chunda stole R90 million meant for the Greening Badplaas Project. It alleged that he then collected kickbacks from all the service providers and claimed that he did this on Mtshweni-Tsipane’s behalf.
Letswalo also allegedly accused Chunda of nepotism, bullying officials and being bought a vehicle by a service provider.
The whistle-blowing attempt backfired on Letswalo as the department’s investigation found that he had sent an email to someone which read: “Ever since the head of department changed the database we have been left with crumbs. To make things worse, now you are being managed and monitored like a child. Things need to change and eventually they will.”
Chunda, through the same lawyers, has also instituted his own defamation claim, demanding R2 million from Letswalo and Silinda.
The letter claims that the pair defamed Chunda by claiming that:
- He collects money from service providers of the department for his and the premier’s benefit;
- Offers jobs for pals and does not follow supply chain management policies;
- Is a corrupt fraudster and steals state resources;
- Victimises and bullies his employees, especially those who disobey him; and
- Is in cohorts with Mtshweni-Tsipane in corruption and the looting of state resources.
“As a result of the defendants’ conduct, the plaintiff suffered damages in his reputation and good name and has suffered reputational harm in the amount of R2 million which [Letswalo and Silinda] are jointly and severally liable for,” reads Chunda’s summons.
Letswalo declined to comment saying the matter was with his lawyers.
Mtshweni-Tsipane has taken a strong anti-corruption stance in the province riddle with faction fighting in the ANC. She has been quietly building a clean profile and has disassociated herself from most politicians deemed as corrupt.
Her supporters are pushing her to contest to be the next ANC provincial chairperson. Acting chairperson, Mandla Ndlovu, former provincial secretary, Lucky Ndinisa, and former provincial executive committee member, Peter Nyoni, are among those expected to contest for the same position.