/ 20 February 1998

Another day, another car smash scandal

Sechaba ka’Nkosi

Gauteng MEC for Safety and Security Jessie Duarte, whose political career hangs in the balance, personally handed an allegedly fraudulent document to the Mail & Guardian last week in an attempt to ward off a series of damaging allegations levelled against her.

The commission of inquiry investigating the charges heard this week that a staffer in Duarte’s department had been coerced into manufacturing the document clearing her of driving a state vehicle involved in an accident.

And the MEC faces further embarrassment with the revelation that her media adviser, Mbulelo Musi, smashed three government cars last year. According to our sources, Musi only obtained his driver’s licence on January 8 this year.

When asked for comment, Musi said he had had a previous driver’s licence which he “renewed around December. I did go for test drives towards the end of last year and that is how I got my new licence.”

If Musi indeed drove the three cars without a valid licence, the mystery of how the cost for the smashed cars was recovered remains unclear

Documents in the M&G’s possession indicate that Musi was asked on a number of occasions to submit reports on the accidents but failed do so on time.

In one letter the department’s director of support services, Theo Burgers, warns that Musi’s failure to submit the reports might result in a suspension of his authorisation to drive a state vehicle.

Musi and the department’s deputy director general, Mkhabela Sibeko, are the two senior officials who allegedly intimidated an employee into retracting a statement implicating Duarte in driving a state vehicle without a valid driver’s licence.

As the two-person commission of inquiry took off this week, the document – which Duarte argued would form the basis of her defence against mismanagement and corruption allegations – became the centre of contest between the commissioners and legal teams representing the various parties.

Gauteng Premier Mathole Motshekga appointed advocate Marumo Moerane last week to head the commission, with the assistance of the chair of the National Public Service Commission, Professor Stan Sangweni.

Included in a package to the commission was a forged letter allegedly written by the department’s transport control officer, Lerato Maruping, and an official accident report signed by Duarte’s bodyguard and driver, David Sons, confirming he was the driver of a government vehicle involved in a car accident on October 18 last year.

Duarte’s version of the accident – which she said was recorded in her diary – is that on the fateful day Sons transported her to an African National Congress meeting at the party’s provincial headquarters in Lancet Hall.

Afterwards she and Sons drove towards the provincial legislature to fetch documents. Duarte went into the building and left Sons to look for a place to park the car.

When Duarte came out a few minutes later, she saw a group of men arguing with Sons. A minibus had smashed into their government car, and she decided they should leave the scene because the driver of the minibus had already left.

That is why, according to her, it took days for the matter to be reported to the police. Sons was still trying to track down the owner of the vehicle with the registration number given to him by the men with whom he was arguing.

Although Sons – a police sergeant – does not

deny he made his initial statement to the police voluntarily, he insists that he did so to protect Duarte and has since retracted it.

In an official accident report given at Central Johannesburg police station with the case number BR 632/10/97, Sons admits he was the driver of the vehicle. ‘On the above-mentioned day I was the driver of GG vehicle [GFM 475 G] and executing protection duty to MEC for Safety and Security Jessie Duarte in Market Street. I parked the vehicle in Market Street, nearest corner Loveday.

“Returning to the vehicle I noticed it was damaged from the back. All inquiries ended in vain as I had to rush with the MEC to her next appointment. I was told a white Hiace Toyota taxi drove into the state vehicle and chased away [sic]. No further documents could be found,” Sons’s statement reads.

On Tuesday night this week Sons phoned Duarte to notify her that he was going to submit an affidavit to the effect that he did not drive the car – leaving Duarte, an unlicensed driver, as the only person who could have been driving the car on the day in question. This makes Sons himself liable to criminal charges, since he made a sworn statement to a police station and is now retracting it.

Sons is understood to have taken the decision after interrogation by commission investigators days after Maruping decided to come clean.

Duarte’s department scoffed at the latest developments, saying they are part of another plot to discredit the department. Representative Mongezi Mnyani insisted Sons had driven the car.

“The department views the retraction as confirmation of a conspiracy against it, and we will be bringing this to the attention of the commission,” said Mnyani.

Gauteng Attorney General Andre de Vries is understood to have instructed provincial commissioner Sharma Maharaj to open a docket into possible contraventions of the Road Traffic Act, as well as fraud charges.