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Luthuli House stands aside as racist Free State mayor carries on in role

The self-confessed racist Free State mayor who encouraged soldiers to act brutally against so-called coloured people has seemingly quietly defied a directive to step down and is allegedly fulfilling all his duties, including handing out food parcels.

Luthuli House has adopted a hands-off approach, insisting that this was a provincial ANC matter. 

Welkom mayor Nkosinjani Speelman is alleged to have referred to people as “boesmans” while addressing the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), going further to label them as drunkards and accusing them of invading the streets and disobeying the lockdown regulations.

He apologised soon afterwards, saying the words were the result of a “slip of the tongue”.

The ANC in the Free State said earlier this month that it had placed Speelman on suspension and that he had been asked to explain himself.

But, in a letter seen by the Mail & Guardian, Speelman instead applied for a leave of absence from April 8 until April 30. He was also quick to appoint a councillor — Sipho David Manese — to act as the executive mayor until his “leave” ended.

“Your appointment in the position carries all the powers, authority, responsibility and accountability, which through legislation or otherwise are attached to the position of the executive mayor of the Matjhabeng local municipality,” read the letter addressed to Manese.

The ANC’s former leader in the province, Sekgopi Malebo, said this act of ignoring the provincial decision was indicative of a faction Speelman is a part of in a province still loyal to ANC secretary general Ace Magashule, the former Free State premier.

National ANC spokesperson, Pule Mabe said, “It is a provincial matter, therefore they will deal with it at that level. We will only enter if there are any challenges. If those people in question are not happy with whatever the outcome is from the provincial intervention, only then national can act.”

This faction, said Malebo, saw itself as above the law. “Speelman was suspended as both a mayor and [a] member of the ANC. But his suspension was not communicated with anyone at municipal level so that it could be affected. The ANC at provincial level didn’t follow up the suspension and effect it. Which means, they fooled the people of Matjhabeng and South Africa in general.” 

Malebo said this is not the first time that the party’s provincial level has protected senior members found to be in the wrong. 

Speelman has also reportedly been performing his mayoral duties, meeting with religious leaders and giving out food parcels. “This demonstrates that they believe they are above the law,” said Malebo. 

Provincial jurisdiction

The party’s provincial spokesperson, Thabo Meeko, said: “The issue of Speelman is being dealt with by the ANC provincially. And, according to legislation, we have been informed that we cannot take him out of his mayoral position. The legislation says it’s only him who can elect someone to the position of acting mayor — hence he wrote the letter — until our internal processes are done. The process is all guided by municipal bylaw.”

He added: “By legislation a mayor can be removed only if he is expelled from the party or dead. We are not empowered to employ anyone in his position, as we have been advised by people who know the legislation better. Only once our investigation has been finished and run its course, a decision will be reached. I can confirm, however, that [Speelman] is suspended as both an ANC member and mayor.”

On allegations that Speelman was delivering food parcels with religious leaders, Meeko said, “Suspension means he cannot perform such duties. It’s just a rumour, but no one has shown us any evidence of that. If we can get the evidence, we would take action.” 

Bheki Stofile, the ANC speaker at Welkom’s Matjhabeng municipality, said Speelman has not been suspended, because there was no letter sent to the municipality.

“For a person not to be a mayor, the ANC must formally inform the institution he works under, which is the municipality, in this case. The municipality needs a paper trail to act. That has not happened. The ANC said the municipality must not do that.” 

Stofile said the municipality had learned about the suspension from the media and had then gone to the provincial ANC to ask for more information. “They are creating problems where there should be no problems. There is no letter, so he has not been suspended. What the ANC is saying, and what the municipal laws say are different things.”

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Chris Gilili
Chris Gilili is a climate and environmental journalist at the Mail & Guardian’s environmental unit, covering socioeconomic issues and general news. Previously, he was a fellow at amaBhungane, the centre for investigative journalism.

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