Mpumalanga premier fined for attending Mthembu funeral without a mask

Mpumalanga Premier Refilwe Mtsweni-Tsipane has been charged for not wearing a mask in public on Saturday.

Mtsweni-Tsipane admitted her guilt in a statement on Monday evening and has paid a fine.

Police spokesperson Vish Naidoo told the Mail & Guardian that the premier had paid a R1 500 fine after being charged in terms of the Disaster Management Act.

“I can only confirm that in the case of Mpumalanga Premier Refilwe Mtsweni-Tsipane not wearing a mask during the funeral of Minister Jackson Mthembu, she was charged in terms of Section 34 (3) (c) read with Section 47 (2) of the Disaster Management Act. She was furnished with a written notice to appear in court with an option of a fine, but she opted for the fine and paid R1 500 in admission of guilt,” Naidoo said.

The premier was caught on film not wearing a mask during the funeral of Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu. Initially, the premier’s office said Mtsweni-Tsipane was oblivious to the fact that her mask had fallen off her face.

“The premier was of the belief that the mask was intact, she was not aware it’s not on her face,” her spokesperson, Sibongile Mkani-Mpolweni, said.
“She did admit that she did not wear her mask during certain stages of the programme. She did wear her mask; however, for the duration of the programme and was seen outside. She welcomes an investigation into this by Police Minister Bheki Cele,” Mkani-Mpolweni said.

However, on Monday evening, after a backlash of rejection of her explanation, Mtsweni-Tsipane released a statement apologising to the country.

“I wish to take this opportunity once again to apologise to His Excellency, President Cyril Ramaphosa, the deputy president, David Mabuza, the Mthembu family, the people of Mpumalanga and the rest of the country,” said Mtsweni-Tsipane.
She added that as a sign of remorse she will purchase 1000 masks “that will be distributed in Emalahleni as part of a public education and awareness campaign to demonstrate the serious nature of Covid-19.”

“I have also decided to go into isolation for 14 days. I wish to also express my condolences to all the families who have lost their loved ones to the pandemic. I also wish those who are currently struggling with the virus a speedy recovery.”

Mtsweni-Tsipane said she had written a letter to President Ramaphosa expressing regret for the situation. She added that she has submitted a statement of guilt at the Vosman Police Station in Emalahleni and paid a fine.

Police Minister Bheki Cele on Sunday said an investigation would be conducted into the premier’s conduct.

“If South Africa wants to beat this invisible enemy, we simply can’t let our guard down,” he said in a statement.

Naidoo did not answer questions about the investigation.

Mtsweni-Tsipane is not the first public official to disregard Covid-19 regulations.
In April last year, the minister of communications and digital technologies, Stella Ndabeni- Abrahams, was placed on two-month special leave after breaching lockdown regulations. This was after a picture of her having a meal at the home of former deputy minister of education, Mduduzi Manana, circulated on social media. In Ndabeni-Abrahams’ case, the president said: “I am satisfied that Minister Ndabeni-Abrahams appreciated the seriousness of what she has done and that no one is above the law.” Ndabeni was also asked to make a public apology.

Mtsweni-Tsipane’s action was blasted by politicians including ANC national executive committee member Zizi Kodwa, who said the premier’s actions insulted the late Jackson Mthembu’s memory.

Mkani-Mpolweni did not answer several calls or respond to text messages seeking further comment.

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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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