WATCH | Tshwane ANC lays fraud charges against DA councillors said to be 'on leave'

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  • The ANC in Tshwane says it has information that two DA councillors no longer reside and operate in the city or around Gauteng.
  • But the DA says the two councillors are on leave and have been continuing with their work, attending virtual meetings. 
  • The ANC has accused the DA of misleading council on the issue, but the DA says the accusations are nothing more than cheap politicking.

The ANC's Tshwane caucus was at the Brooklyn police station on Wednesday to open criminal cases of fraud, corruption and theft against two DA councillors, as well the party's  chief whip, Christo van den Heever, and council speaker Katlego Mathebe.

In a statement on Tuesday, the opposition party in the DA-led administration said it had received evidence indicating that the DA had two "fraudulent and illegal ward councillors in council, serving and earning salaries since 2020 without doing council work". 

The two have been identified as Johan Welmans and Ernst Botha. 

The ANC claimed they no longer resided and operated from the city or around Gauteng. 

"Information in our possession indicates that councillor Ernst Botha [Ward 44, Pretoria East] has emigrated and now resides in Oceania, New Zealand. Councillor Johan Welmans [Ward 99, Cullinan, Refilwe in Metsweding] is now residing in the Western Cape [West Coast] and our information indicates that he sold his Tshwane property in 2020," the ANC charged.

It said Welmans had resigned from the party to join a new political home.

The ANC also accused Van den Heever of misleading council during a virtual meeting on 1 February, where after being asked by several members to confirm or deny whether the two councillors were residents in the geographic area of Tshwane or not, he had indicated that they had not left their residences and were still in the city. 

The ANC said: 

"Councillor Van den Heever repeatedly misled council by indicating that the two did not leave their original residences and are still in the DA Council Caucus as elected Cllrs. It needs to be further mentioned that their continued participation through virtual links during Council meetings purporting to be still in Tshwane, is not only misleading, but criminally malicious."

But Van den Heever denied having misled council and said the councillors were actually on approved leave, but still attending council meetings despite this.

"We cannot prescribe to anybody who is on leave, and where they should go, if they are on leave. The fact of the matter is they are on approved leave. I approve leave as the chief whip of council.

"Where they go when I have approved leave, is their own choice. As a matter of fact, these councillors have still been attending their council responsibilities because fortunately, all the meetings are virtually." 

He added that Botha was in New Zealand, but still working.

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But Tshwane ANC leader Kgoši Maepa told News24 the party had plenty of evidence to prove its claims.

When asked about this evidence, he produced a screenshot which appeared to show a petition for Botha's Ward 44 on the domain (New Zealand).

Speaking outside the police station on Wednesday, Maepa said they were calling for the councillors to "pay back" the money they were earning while they were doing work from outside the Tshwane region.  

The ANC said: "Ward Councillors can assist their constituents and make formal complaints or petitions to the Municipality and follow up on such action to resolution. We have seen Cllr Botha do the latter via his New Zealand email, a criminal and illegal act.

"From the above, a Ward Councillor who is absent in the geographic area that he/she represents shall not be able to deliver on the expectations put on that position. As a consequence therefore, the absence of the two DA Councillors is criminal. It is actually theft for them to have continued to draw salaries for work they are incapable of performing since early 2020."

Van den Heever, however, said as far as he was concerned, the councillors were still residents of Tshwane, meaning he had not misled council. 

"When your leave expires, you come back where you stay. Both of their leave is until the end of the month." 

He added the ANC was well within its rights to open charges against him, saying he knew what the facts around the matter were, and would be defending himself based on those facts. 

In a recording of council meeting on 1 February, which News24 has listened to, Van den Heever, after being queried about the whereabouts of the two councillors, responds that not one of them had resigned and they were both attending meetings. 

Van den Heever does not specify their whereabouts, but an ANC member then also warns that if a probe finds they were logging in from outside the region, there would be consequences. 

Van den Heever said: 

Cllr Welmans did not resign from the Party or as Councillor. Cllr Botha however in the mean time did resign effective 1 March 2021. These Cllr have been working and been attending all Council related meetings and can be proofed.

Meanwhile, Welmans told News24 he was diagnosed with kidney failure and asked for leave to treat himself.

He said he had travelled to the Western Cape in November 2020 to be with his son and nephew who were assisting him with the treatment. 

Welmans added he had decided to take leave because he viewed himself at risk of contracting Covid-19 because of his diagnosis.

He said he had a doctor's note which he had submitted to Van den Heever.

"I am here [in the Western Cape] and I will go back when Covid-19 is better and can do contact work again. For now, I cannot do any contact work, but I am working electronic[ally] and I am still working with my ward and also attend all council meetings. As soon as Covid-19 is better I am going back to finish my term," Welmans added. 

On claims that he had sold his property, he said he owned no property and was renting the house, adding he would move back when his health was better. 

Welmans said he was in also in contact with his ward electronically, although there was a councillor standing in for him for physical meetings. 

On claims he had resigned and joined another political party, the councillor said:

I will never join another party now because I am retiring this year and so why would I join. I am finished with politics. And I will still attend meetings because everybody else is doing that electronically.

The ANC caucus said it was also seeking legal advice and planning to go to the Office of the Public Protector regarding the issue. 

DA Tshwane regional chairperson Mpho Mehlape-Zimu said the ANC's claims against the councillors were nothing but "but cheap politicking".

She added Botha had tendered his resignation with effect from 28 February due to family responsibilities.

"Similarly, councillor Johan Welmans is still a member of the party and will complete his term as a councillor. He remains a resident of Tshwane and the DA therefore rejects the false accusations made by the ANC in this regard.

"Councillor Welmans has been chronically ill for some time, which resulted in him taking leave. Despite his unfavourable health, councillor Welmans continued to serve his community and participated actively in council and committee responsibilities," Mehlape-Zimu said.

The DA added that it was confident council minutes could confirm the attendance of both councillors since being reinstated in October 2020.

It said:

The ANC is trying to use this as cheap politicking to bring about distraction from their own internal factional battles within the region. The DA therefore advises the ANC to focus on cleaning up their own house before making frivolous accusations.

Botha, who is in New Zealand, could not be immediately reached for comment at the time of publication. His comment will be added once received. 

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