/ 16 February 2018

Mud slung as Free State leadership race intensifies

Mathabo Leeto
Mathabo Leeto

Supporters of Free State premier hopeful Thabo Manyoni are planning to push for the reinstatement of the 200 fraud and corruption charges against his main political opponent, arts and culture MEC Mathabo Leeto.

The move is seen by Leeto’s supporters as a desperate attempt to tarnish her name before the provincial conference, where she is expected to vie with Manyoni for the position of ANC Free State chairperson.

The post was previously held by Ace Magashule, who is now ANC secretary general. Whoever wins is likely to replace Magashule as premier.

Leeto, a close Magashule ally, faced fraud charges relating to tender irregularities, which were dropped in 2016 due to insufficient evidence. She was arrested in 2013 while serving as mayor of Matjhabeng local municipality.

Although she was never found guilty of any wrongdoing, some of Manyoni’s supporters believe police should investigate further.

A Manyoni lobbyist confirmed to the Mail & Guardian this week that there were some in his camp who were pushing for the charges against Leeto to be reinstated.

“There is a belief that there may have been interference as far as the legal processes are concerned, hence why the charges against her [Leeto] were withdrawn — because of the position she occupies,” the lobbyist said.

Leeto’s supporters told the M&G they were aware of attempts to have the 2016 charges against her reinstated. She is hoping to become the first woman to serve as provincial chairperson in the ANC.

“I can confirm that formally she has not been recharged, but those who are seeking to play politics … are seeking to persuade the National Prosecuting Authority to reinstate those charges. But we are not swayed; we know that she is innocent and incorruptible, because remember, a court of law failed to find any evidence against her,” said her campaign spokesperson, Fezile Sonkwala.

A senior party member who supports Manyoni’s campaign said Leeto was an extension of Magashule, who endorsed her candidacy last month. “She was there when he [Magashule] was destroying our province and she assisted him. She supported NDZ [Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma] at all costs and was part of a group willing to do anything for power, including destroy the ANC in the province.”

But Leeto’s supporters have hit back, saying Manyoni was in fact the true extension of Magashule because of the close relationship the two shared before their fallout in 2016. During the lead-up to the ANC’s national elective conference in December, the two former allies found themselves on opposing sides, a feud that deepened divisions in the province.

“He [Manyoni] is the one who can’t be trusted. When did he suddenly start supporting Ramaphosa? It is because he was upset after he was promised a ministerial position and he didn’t get it,” a Leeto supporter told the M&G. “The man was a deputy [provincial] chairperson and he was sitting in the same structure as Magashule. He was part of everything Magashule did.”

Manyoni launched his campaign to become chairperson and premier in January and is believed to be 
a favourite among those who supported Ramaphosa. His supporters believe him to be the best candidate to unite the province following the aftermath of the national conference.