Asbestos case arrests: ANC Free State locked in meetings over fate of arrested leaders

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Olly Mlamleli is said to have been arrested in connection with a Free State tender.
Olly Mlamleli is said to have been arrested in connection with a Free State tender.
File/News24
  • ANC officials in the Free State in locked in marathon meetings over the fate of its arrested party leaders. 
  • One such leader includes ousted Mangaung metro mayor Olly Mlamleli, who is said to be implicated. 
  • Mlameli is believed to be among Ace Magashule's key allies. 

Ousted Mangaung metro mayor Olly Mlamleli's future hangs in the balance as the ANC officials in the Free State have been locked in talks after her arrest on Wednesday.

News24 reported that Mlamleli was arrested on Wednesday morning and taken to Bainsvlei police station in Bloemfontein.

News24 understood that the arrests were related to the controversial asbestos contract, which Mlamleli was fingered for during her stint as MEC.

Officials in the province convened an urgent meeting following the arrests of Mlameli and other high-profile people in the province. 

ROLLING COVERAGE | Hawks make arrests for Free State asbestos deal

An insider said officials were deadlocked on whether to implement resolutions by the ANC's national executive committee, which instructed all those implicated in wrongdoing to step aside; "or follow the party's constitution and the law that everyone is innocent until proven guilty". 

"There is a strong push for the matter to be deviated to [the] provincial working committee that will meet on Monday. At this point, no one is willing to throw down the axe," a party insider in the provincial executive committee (PEC) said. 

Very powerful

Another insider said Mlameleli, a PEC member with close ties to ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule, was still very powerful in the province.

"She has support and she has the backing of Comrade Ace. That surely tells you why this meeting has taken two days and there is still no decision made. It is going to be hard for anyone to demand that she steps down. It's not like in KwaZulu-Natal, were Comrade Zandile's power and national support is waning. This province is still largely controlled by one faction or one side of the ANC. It will be a difficult decision to make," the party leader said. 

READ | Free State asbestos case ousted Mangaung mayor among those arrested - ANC to have urgent meeting 

Free State ANC spokesperson Thabo Meeko told News24 officials in the meeting were still monitoring the situation as it developed. He said there were a number of cases to discuss, including Mlamleli's fate. 

He said: 

"The officials are looking into process into how to implement ANC's code of conduct and the decision of the NEC that says those suspected of corruption must step down. However, this must all be guided by constitution. We cannot ignore the law of the country and the ANC's constitution which says innocent until proven guilty."

Mlamleli is expected to appear in court on Friday.

In May, Magashule and Mlameli were implicated in a damning report by Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane. 

Failed

The report ruled that the province failed to follow proper procurement procedures when they awarded the R200 million contract, and that the provincial department participated in an expired contract of the Gauteng human settlements department and failed to conduct a due diligence investigation before participating in the contract.

Mkhwebane highlighted that the province was in possession of the Gauteng department's Service Level Agreement, which had expired, but went ahead to pay the service provider R139 million.

This, despite the Auditor-General having declared the procurement as irregular as early as July 2015.

She further highlighted that the department did not receive value for money and the service provider had sub-contracted the contract at a fee of just over R21 million, while the service provider walked away with R230 million.

EXPLAINER | What you need to know about the Free State asbestos deal

The controversial deal was signed during Magashule and Mlamleli's time as Free State premier and Human Settlements MEC respectively.

In a statement, the SACP said the arrests of key politicians and businesspeople were a key indicator that the country had entered the dawn of the era of accountability.

"First, more arrests must follow. Second, there must be successful prosecution. Third, those found guilty must be sentenced to severe prison sentences. Fourth, the assets acquired from corrupt conduct, fraud and other forms of wrongdoing must be seized through asset forfeiture processes.

"All avenues, national and international, must be exhausted to recover the public resources lost because of state capture and other forms of corrupt conduct," SACP spokesperson Alex Mashilo said.

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