Racist mayor extends his leave

The self-confessed racist mayor of Matjhabeng local municipality in the Free State, Nkosinjani Speelman, has a great deal on his hands for someone who is on extended leave.

Speelman was apparently suspended by the ANC in the Free State, both as a member of the party and as mayor, after he referred to residents of Bronville in Welkom as “boesmans” while addressing members of the South African National Defence Force on April 8.

He was further alleged to have labelled them as drunkards and accused them of invading the streets and disobeying the lockdown regulations. He subsequently apologised claiming that the words were a “slip of the tongue”.

In a letter dated April 30, Speelman applied for an extension of his leave of absence, which he had granted himself in early April, until the end of the month. The letter, signed by Speelman, bears the municipality’s letterhead but is not addressed to any specific person. He also appointed Sipho Manese to act as the mayor. It is therefore unclear whether Speelman wrote the letter to himself.

“I hereby apply for an extension of my leave as from Thursday, 30 April 2020 due to personal matters. I am appointing councillor SD Manese to act as the executive mayor during this period,” says the latest letter written by Speelman.

“This is subject to me shortening my leave of absence at any given time in this period and his appointment be presented to the first council sitting within seven days after the date the National Disaster proclamation has been revoked and/or such a time where normal council proceedings can continue.”

This is despite the ANC in the Free State having claimed early in April that it had suspended Speelman over the “boesmans” slur.

The Mail & Guardian earlier reported that Luthuli House, the ANC’s headquarters, had decided to stay clear of the matter, saying it should be dealt with by its provincial structure (“Luthuli House stands aside as racist Free State mayor carries on in role”, April 21 2020).

ANC Free State provincial spokesperson Thabo Meeko said a decision has not been made by the ANC’s provincial disciplinary committee and Speelman was well within his rights to extend his leave while his suspension is running.

“The mayor still remains suspended and his matter is being dealt with by the PEC [provincial executive committee]. Since the declaration of the national disaster due to the Covid-19, this process has been delayed. So Speelman, according to legislation, can still appoint someone to act on his behalf.

“The law says, he can only stop being mayor once he has died or removed. He applied for leave extension because the decision has not been made. He remains suspended and cannot perform his mayoral duties,” said Meeko. “His suspension is still pending and he cannot be removed.”

Sekgopi Malebo, who works for the ANC and is a former provincial leader in the Free State, said the PEC is using the Covid-19 lockdown as an excuse.

“They are playing a delay tactic to ensure Speelman dodges this issue. This is how they play all the time, to make sure they protect their ruling faction. The fact that Speelman is suspended is only on paper and not actually in practise,” he said.

“There is no rule in the ANC constitution that says, while you are suspended you can employ someone to act on your behalf. They are lying. If the Covid-19 is an issue, why did they decide on his suspension in the first place?”

Malebo said this was not the first time the ANC in the Free State has defended their own.

“Last year, right after the elections, the same ANC allowed a Lesotho national, Nthateng Maoke, to hold a public office as mayor of Setsoto local municipality. She was not qualified to even vote, let alone hold a public office.

“They indeed removed her from office this year in February. It’s alleged however that she still receives her salary from Setsoto municipality and is still in the country.”

Malebo further alleges that both the ANC Women’s League and the PEC took a stance on this issue and insisted that Maoke should be kept on the payroll.

Meeko confirmed that Maoke was fired. “The mayor presented her South African ID to us and said she obtained it legally. [The] home affairs [department] disputed her South African identity and alleged she fraudulently got her identity. The party relieved her upon discovering this. She committed to taking home affairs to court over the matter, so we’re still awaiting an outcome of that.”

He added: “On the allegations that she still receives a salary from the provincial government, I can confirm that she still received her salary, because of the court action pending between her and home affairs. The party just suspended her, but she is still getting her salary.”

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Chris Gilili
Chris Gilili is an Open Society Fellow in Investigative Reporting at Wits University. Currently spending six months with the Mail and Guardian in the Investigations desk. He started journalism with Independent Media’s vernacular publication, I’solezwe LesiXhosa in East London. He has freelanced for publications such as GroundUp and Workers World Media.

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