/ 17 June 2011

Shiceka clams up on Cape car crash

The official government car used by Sicelo Shiceka, the minister of cooperative governance and traditional affairs, was written off in a crash in Cape Town recently, which has raised questions because he is on official sick leave.

The accident involving his two-year-old black Mercedes Benz E350 happened a few weeks ago, while the minister was supposed to be at home in the Eastern Cape recovering from an undisclosed illness. He bought the car, which has a minimum selling price of R671 300, when he assumed office in 2009. The presidency has said that Shiceka’s illness requires him to rest.

Two sources said Shiceka was driving the vehicle when it crashed, but this could not be independently verified by the Mail & Guardian. Shiceka did not deny that his car was involved in an accident, but refused to answer questions when approached this week.

“I am on leave, I can’t talk about that. Speak to the acting minister, Nathi Mthethwa,” he said. The minister has responded to other media inquiries during his long sick leave.

The car was taken from Cape Town to Pretoria, but was removed from the department’s Pretoria premises in the last week of May when M&G sources were trying to get pictures of it.

“The car is gone. They probably became aware that questions were already being asked,” said a source in the department.

The damaged car had been in the department’s garage for almost two weeks, according to M&G sources. Shiceka also denied being in Cape Town in May, in spite of government sources saying that he voted in the local government elections in the city on May 18. “I’ve not gone to Cape Town in a long, long time,” Shiceka said.

However, a source close to him, who works extensively in local government, contradicted the minister, saying he was “shuttling between the Eastern Cape and Cape Town”. Shiceka also refused to answer questions about who could have crashed his car if he was not in Cape Town.

Vuyelwa Vika, his spokesperson, told the M&G she knew nothing about the accident. “Since he was on leave I don’t know his movements. We’ve not been interacting or working together,” she said.

Vika said she would also not have known if the damaged car had been stored in the department’s Pretoria garage.

In emailed responses Vika said Shiceka was not available “during this period” to help her respond to the M&G‘s questions — although the M&G had spoken to the minister a few hours before.

She said Shiceka was recuperating in his house in Pretoria. “He could not have been in Cape Town, let alone could he have been driving himself, when he is currently suffering from ill-health,” she said.

A local government source close to Shiceka said there was “no justification” for the minister to lie about going to Cape Town because he was seen by several people.

“Those are the things that you cannot deny. There’s nothing wrong with saying you were in Cape Town. What you were doing in Cape Town is another story. As long as you admit that you were in the proximity, that’s fine.

“But,” the source added, “the fact that he’s on leave makes it clear that he’s wrong for using the ministerial car.”

Shiceka was “stubborn” and not taking anyone’s advice, the source said. “We talk to him but, when you start probing too strongly, he becomes defensive. He thinks you’re on the other side.

“He doesn’t understand that we’re trying to help him”.

According to those close to him and other sources in the ANC, Shiceka is said to have lost the political clout he once had.

“He is under pressure from all corners. At some point he was a rising star in the ANC, but now he has lost many friends. He had the president’s ear, but that is no longer the case. The man is full of anger,” the source said.

Meanwhile, the public protector has started investigating Shiceka’s alleged misuse of millions of state funds. He allegedly spent taxpayers’ money on luxury hotels and first-class air tickets to visit a girlfriend jailed in Switzerland, with another girlfriend in tow.

The M&G reported last week that senior ANC sources had indicated that Shiceka had been told that he would be removed from the Cabinet.