Freedom -- for now

The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) has withdrawn corruption charges against Peggy Nkonyeni, the controversial former KwaZulu-Natal health minister, and a strong supporter of President Jacob Zuma, prompting a gleeful response from the ANC.

According to the local press, Nkonyeni left the Pietermaritzburg Magistrate’s Court chanting: ‘Free! Free at last!” But the dropping of the charges could prove a temporary reprieve.

NPA spokesperson Mthunzi Mhaga told the Mail & Guardian that they could be reinstated at a later date.
The ANC used the dropping of the charges as a rod to further bludgeon the NPA, saying in a statement that the authority had conceded ‘to not having evidence to proceed with the case”.

It said it was ‘vindicated, as it had always believed in Comrade Nkonyeni’s innocence” and the decision ‘reaffirms our belief in the rule of law and the integrity of our judiciary system”. It also criticised the NPA for having ‘embarked on this case — without having conducted proper investigations”.

Mhaga said charges had been dropped because a vital witness ‘had been suffering from severe stress, to the extent that the person wasn’t in a position to testify”. ‘We’d hoped to get an indication from the doctor for a time frame—six months or whatever—for their recovery so as to ask for a postponement, but the doctor wasn’t able to do this.

‘In view of this we had to withdraw charges, but we will look into reinstating the matter once the person has recovered.” He would not be drawn further on the witness’s medical condition or identity.

The charge against Nkonyeni relates to a mammogram machine bought by her former department at a cost of R1.5-million in an allegedly flawed tender process. It is understood that the cancerscreening machine was initially to be bought from another company at a cost of R425 000.

Nkonyeni, now the provincial treasurer and ANC chief whip in the provincial legislature, appeared alongside co-accused Lindelihle Mkhwanazi, the owner of Rowmoor Investments, the company that sold the machine to the health department, and Mduduzi Ntshangase, the department’s head of supply-chain management.

Mkhwanazi, who is alleged to be Nkonyeni’s lover, was charged with corruption and fraud, while Ntshangase’s charges included fraud and contravening the Public Finance Management Act.

According to a Sapa report, Mkhwanazi allegedly agreed to give Nkonyeni ‘gratification” for pressuring Ntshangane to purchase the equipment.

The flamboyant Nkonyeni sparked controversy by leaving the health department more than R1.5-billion in the red when she took up her new post after this year’s election.

Attempts to sideline her in ANC structures were thwarted at the party’s provincial general congress last year, when she landed the provincial treasurer’s position ahead of Sizani Dlamini. This was attributed to strong support from Cosatu and the SACP in the province.

Niren Tolsi

Niren Tolsi

Niren Tolsi is a freelance journalist.His areas of interest include social justice; citizen mobilisation and state violence; protest; the constitution and the constitutional court and football. Read more from Niren Tolsi

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