/ 21 March 2009

My jailer, my wife

Tozama Mqobi
Tozama Mqobi

Correctional Services Minister Ngconde Balfour is facing tough questions on a new front: his love life.

Angry departmental employees have accused Balfour of a conflict of interest after his marriage to Gauteng regional commissioner Tozama Mqobi at the end of last year. Mqobi is Balfour’s third wife.

Insiders say his wedding in December was a low-key affair compared with his widely publicised marriage to medical doctor Ntombekhaya Rubina Mqubuli in 2006 at Balfour’s plush East London home.

The 2006 wedding was attended by Cabinet ministers and selected journalists. The Daily Dispatch reported Balfour saying of his new wife: ”I call her Mqubuli. She makes me smile, laugh, she makes me sing. Ntosh is a very humble person. I love her very much.”

It is unclear whether Balfour has divorced Mqubuli and whether his marriage to Mqobi is under customary law. Balfour’s spokesperson, Manelisi Wolela, said the matter is a ”personal” and ”private” affair between ”two consenting adults”.

”Such matters are outside the department’s mandate and therefore we’re not at liberty to speak on them with anyone.”

Some of Balfour’s colleagues differ. The Mail & Guardian has received angry messages from correctional services staff complaining that Balfour’s intimate bond with one of his underlings constitutes a conflict of interest. They fear Mqobi will receive privileged treatment.

Mqobi presided over the infamous Grootvlei Prison disciplinary hearings in 2003. Video footage aired on national television showed inmates bribing warders.

At the time she was employed as a director in the department of trade and industry.

She served as deputy commissioner of legal and special operations in the corrections department and as head of Balfour’s ministry before being promoted to head Gauteng’s prisons in October 2007.