Balfour backed private house for prisons boss

Former correctional services minister Ngconde Balfour encouraged his prisons boss, Xoliswa Sibeko, not to use her official residence. This ministerial advice resulted in the department having to pay R34 000 a month rent for Sibeko to stay on a luxury golf estate.

Sibeko, who was suspended in July last year by Balfour’s successor, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, for allegedly abusing her position, was cleared by a disciplinary hearing in December. But Mapisa-Nqakula prohibited her from returning to work, extending her “special leave” while she studies the ruling.

Until now the role of Balfour — South Africa’s ambassador to Botswana — in the renting of expensive houses for Sibeko and his wife, Gauteng’s prisons boss Tozama Mqobi-Balfour, has been unclear.

But the Sibeko judgment reveals the ex-minister’s hand in the department renting two luxury houses in Pretoria’s Woodhill Estate.

Mqobi-Balfour was placed on precautionary suspension this week by acting prisons boss Jenny Schreiner, who said her suspension was related to the Woodhill saga.

The Mail & Guardian is in possession of the ruling by senior advocate Paul Kennedy, who chaired Sibeko’s hearing and cleared her on all three charges. Sibeko had been charged with renting her and Mqobi-Balfour’s houses, and with alleged misconduct in taking her husband on an official trip to Austria.

After he was appointed in October 2008, Balfour provided Sibeko with a bodyguard and said her private residence in Lynwood, Pretoria, had to be subjected to a security assessment.

Balfour was not in favour of Sibeko staying in her official residence on the Pretoria prison’s premises because of burglaries and escapes from the prisons. “The minister’s partner [Mqobi-Balfour], whom he married shortly thereafter — was at the time accommodated in one of the houses on prison premises, but feared for her safety and was in the process of moving out,” Kennedy’s ruling reads.

Concerns were also raised about the accessibility of Sibeko and Mqobi-Balfour’s houses to prisoners and warders “who apparently felt they were free at any time to pitch up at senior officials’ houses”. Prisoners were able to look out over Sibeko’s official residence “and shout at her in an abusive manner”.

Sibeko’s private residence was found to be unsafe and the department of public works was instructed to find a rental property.

The department found and approved both houses, and Sibeko was not involved in choosing the properties, Kennedy found.

He further accepted Sibeko’s explanation that it was Balfour who proposed that she take her husband on the Austria trip.

Sibeko’s lawyer, Harry Raborifi, said on Wednesday that he wrote to Mapisa-Nqakula on December 17, expressing the view that she acted unlawfully by extending Sibeko’s leave and that his client should return to work.

He is still awaiting the department’s response.

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