Nkonyeni bags KZN education MEC position

KwaZulu-Natal provincial legislature speaker Peggy Nkonyeni has been appointed education MEC.

She was sworn in by KwaZulu-Natal Deputy Judge President Achmat Jappie at a brief ceremony in Durban on Monday.

She takes over from Senzo Mchunu, who was elected KwaZulu-Natal premier last month. Mchunu said the legislature would elect a new speaker on Tuesday. She is also the treasurer of the ANC in the province.

Nkonyeni, who trained as a secondary school teacher, served as health MEC from 2004 to 2009.

In June this year, evidence led in the Labour Court in Durban lifted the lid on "bribe clauses" in contracts, and the reckless spending and alleged cowboy approach to dispensing tenders for kickbacks at KwaZulu-Natal's health department, which contributed to the department. In one year it overspent its budget by an estimated R1.5-billion.

Testimony by the health department's former general manager for legal services, Prenitha Kantha Padayachee, has also reinforced the suspicions about why charges of fraud, corruption and racketeering against the department's former political head and then provincial health MEC, Nkonyeni, were dropped last year. Nkonyeni is known to be closely aligned with President Jacob Zuma.

'Under pressure'
Padayachee revealed that at a meeting in December 2007, when the department signed off on a deal with Intaka Technology for it to provide oxygen generating machines, Nkonyeni, who had been installed as provincial treasurer the previous year, had indicated to her that she was "under pressure to conclude" the deal to facilitate a "donation" from the company to the party.

Intaka is owned by Uruguayan businessperson Gaston Savoi, who is charged with bribing officials in KwaZulu-Natal and the Northern Cape for tenders worth more than R86-million.

In an interview with the Mail & Guardian in 2011, he said that he had donated about R3.6-million in separate payments to the ANC, including an amount of R1-million in 2007 into the party's KwaZulu-Natal coffers. According to Savoi, the payment was made to a Durban law firm at the request of Sipho Shabalala, then boss of the provincial treasury.

Nkonyeni, who was political head of the department when it overspent its budget by R1.5-billion in 2008, later denied Padayachee's claims in a press statement. – Additional reporting by Niren Tolsi

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